Los Angeles Jewish - Muslim 
Dialogue on Human Rights - Results

The Finding Our Common Humanity dialogue between Jews and Muslims in Los Angeles was sponsored by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics located in Malibu. 

The dialogue began late in March 2005 and continued for five rounds until mid-May.  Approximately 20 Jews and 20 Muslims signed up with almost everyone in each group participating at one point or another.  Altogether, 76 messages were written, each rated by an average of over 10 persons each.

The first, third and fifth rounds were "together" rounds where members of both groups wrote and rated messages in common to select one message to represent their common humanity.  The second and fourth rounds were "apart" rounds where each group selected its own message, so for these rounds there were two winners, one from each group. Sparked by the email dialogue, a meeting of some 70 plus persons was held on May 22.  That meeting included 20 of the email dialogue participants and was held in a friendly atmosphere at the Islamic Center near downtown L.A.  Altogether the dialogue and the in-person meeting constituted a great success.

The messages are well worth reading in themselves and they tell a story, the kind of story we need to hear more of.  The final message, adopted by both groups together, lists a five point agenda for Southern California.  Clearly this message needs to be followed up on, so we are going to restart the email dialogue as soon as we have expanded our membership to 30 Jews and 30 Muslims.

"Finding Our Common Humanity" Email Dialogue Results

Round One - one message selected by both groups together
Serving God through serving humanity
by Vicki Armour-Hileman

To believe in one God is to believe that there is a Oneness that underlies all reality. Humanity participates in that oneness. This view of monotheism is present in both Muslim and Jewish teachings. The sacred narratives of both traditions declare humanity a single family descending from Adam. Therefore both Jews and Muslims teach that to save one person is to save the world.

If believing in one God requires acknowledging the ultimate oneness of humanity, then faith, at least in part, is about serving God through serving humanity. When religion does not concern itself with the concrete needs and rights of people, it neglects its highest purpose. All the more so, when members of a religious community trample on the rights of others, religion actually betrays its highest purpose.

Thus, we who, in faithfulness to our traditions, are committed to upholding human dignity, must speak both to our own communities, and from our communities to the world at large, raising a common voice for compassion. We must declare, together, that the mission of monotheism is to assist in bringing God's peace and justice more fully into our world, and that can only be done if we proclaim and protect the rights of all people.

Human Rights, then, are important to Jews and Muslims in three ways:

1) To uphold the rights of human beings is one of the obligations incumbent on all the people of God. Thus we speak for Human Rights as part of our individual expression of our respective faiths.

2) Human Rights is one of the things Muslims and Jews -- indeed all people of faith and good will -- can work for in common. Acting in unity is itself a powerful sign of healing in our divided world.

3) Religious morality and global politics intersect in the concern for human rights. The issue of human rights is important both because of the moral imperative to declare every human life sacred, and because human rights violations by world leaders -- both political and religious -- can potentially have international repercussions. We who believe that the oneness of God underlies the oneness of humanity, have a collective mission to call world leaders to moral action. Humanity is indeed a single family sharing a small planet, and in a world as small as this one, we all hold each others' futures in our hands.

Round Two - two messages, one from each group
Round two message from Jewish group: 

Steps to Common Ground on Human Rights
by Jean Katz 

To uphold Human Rights together we must find concrete tasks that we can share. It seems to me that this can only happen after we know each other in groups of two, three, and four and share some openness about our lives and the way our religions shape our lives.

When we have built friendship and trust through intimate, face-to-face dialogue, we need to explore the Human Rights issues on our doorstep in Los Angeles, or wherever we live, before we undertake serious work on the global scene.

Our thoughts and emotions are influenced by the media which report contradictory information about the same events. It is hard to discover the truth from the media, or even from speakers in our synogogues and mosques who bring us contradictory information.

It seems to me that our search for truth and common ground must come from the real experience of our lives at home, in the workplace, and in the community. Out of this I pray that we can find a shared passion for specific Human Rights issues, first locally, and later globally. 

Round two message from Muslim group:

Dichotomy in the Jewish Community

The common interest in human rights for Jews and Muslims is correct. However, it seems that the American Jewish community would defend human rights every where in the world and for everyone, except in Israel and for Palestinians. This is not to label all US Jews. There are many who are brave and outspoken justice advocates. But even those ones are treated as a pariah by the rest of the "established:" and "mainstream" Jewish community. I know that first-hand from the Jewish friends that I have who get labeled self-hating Jews every time they criticize human rights abuses by Israel.

There is little debate that Israel gravely violates the human rights of Palestinians, yet, if one is to check the publications of America's largest Jewish human rights organizations, such as ADL, AJC, Museum of Tolerance, etc. one would come to the conclusion that there is almost no such thing as Palestinians. Just try it and visit the websites of those organizations or even the museum itself. Actually, those same groups have engaged in a concerted effort to de-humanize the Palestinians and even justify Israel's abuses. In contrast, mainstream Muslim organizations such as MPAC, CAIR, ISNA, etc. have repeatedly condemned the targeting of Israeli civilians, the expressions of anti-Semitism by Muslim extremists, ...

The reason I am bringing up this issue is because for most Muslims, this attitude projects a level of hypocrisy in the "mainstream" American Jewish community. Personally, I know that it is not a true representation of the great human rights concerns that many Jews hold, but remember, this is what an average Muslim sees and experiences.

American Jews have to make a decision about these very serious questions:
- Are they American Jews first or supporters of Israel in America?
- Is Israel beyond criticism?
- Is every criticism of Israel equivalent to anti-Semitism?
- Are someone's views about Israel a litmus test for whether to consider him/her an acceptable ally or not?
- Is the unconditional defense of Israel more important than the credibility of the community?

Those questions are to be answered internally by the US Jewish community. The answers to those questions will determine the degree Muslims and Jews are going to have a cooperative relationship on human rights.

Of all people in the US, I strongly believe that Muslims and Jews are the best positioned to become the closest partners.

Round Three - one message selected by both groups together
From Principles to Commitment
by Vicki Armour-Hileman

It seems it is time to go beyond generalities, and to clothe our principles in the language of commitment:

We, as Jews and Muslims together proclaim human rights violations in the Middle East unacceptable, whether they are committed by Muslims or Jews; whether in the name of the State of Israel or in the interest of Palestinian nationalism; whether committed by an organized military body or by individuals. These violations include attacks on civilians, demolition of houses, or harassment of any kind. We call on both sides to engage in dialogue toward a peaceful solution.

We do not accept the validity of any view point that attempts to usurp the religious authority of either Islam or Judaism to excuse acts of violence or human rights abuses. We pledge to be self-critical of the groups and political interests that speak in our respective names.

We acknowledge that we in the US share responsibility for what the US government does, and we pledge together to speak loving critique to our government, calling for an improvement in its human rights record.

We recognize that sometimes both U.S. Muslims and US Jews may feel a familial tug toward groups in the Middle East even when we don't approve of their actions. We often find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of feeling simultaneously critical of our co-religionists overseas (or in the US), and yet we may feel defensive, embarrassed or guilty when we hear others criticize them. This is a difficult emotional situation to be in, particularly because most of us feel we have no real power over the groups acting in our name.

We acknowledge that there is a history of suffering and frustration in each others' groups that we may not yet fully understand. We pledge a willingness to hear one another's experience of reality, as regards our respective histories in the Middle East and in general. We believe the telling of our respective truths has a place in the search for healing, mutual understanding and peace.

Finally, we long to see one another face to face, to know each other not only as Jews and Muslims, but as human beings. We see one another as partners in the work of bringing justice and peace to our world. 

Round Four - two messages, one from each group
Round four message from Jewish group: 

Peace is at hand. Let us each put into practice in word and deed the wisdom of our blessed and dedicated religious leaders of the first International Congress of Imams and Rabbis held in January 2005. 

-- Rebecca Tobias

Here is the final declaration from the 100 Imams and Rabbis for Peace Congress:

We, leaders, representatives, Rabbis and Imams of Muslim and Jewish religious communities who have assembled from all over the world for the first world congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace affirm our commitment to strive to end all bloodshed and attacks against innocent human beings that offend the right to life and dignity given by the Almighty to all human beings.

1. We call upon all people to combat hate, ignorance and their causes and to build together a world of peace, rich in diversity, in which all faiths and their practices are respected and protected.

2. We call upon the political leaders of all peoples to work for righteous and peaceful durable solutions around the world and in particular in the Holy Land for the benefit of all peoples and faith-communities who live in the land and hold it dear.

3. We pledge ourselves to pursue a shared goal of respect for human rights for all people and peoples, without which no peace can be possible.

4. We call upon all religious leaders in Jewish and Muslim congregations around the world to devote regular sermons and addresses to their communities on the importance of inter-religious respect and reverence for all human life under all circumstances.

5. We announce the establishment of a permanent joint committee to help implement these commitments and propose programmatic initiatives on a regular basis, in keeping with the proposals presented during the congress and in its spirit for the wellbeing of all peoples.

Egmont Palace, Belgium- January 6, 2005

Round four message from Muslim group: 

It is Commendable
by Dr. Nazir Khaja

It is commendable that the dialogue has progressed this far. I am sure we all realise that this is only a begining like many others in the inter-faith communities. The challenge, which I am assuming is the purpose of this whole exercise, is to create that level of confidence among these adversarial groups which will move them past skepticism, doubt and distrust of each other. Though it is necessary to hear each other`s narrative and acknowledge the pain and suffering to restore dignity and humanity of each other, in the end it would come down to identifying concrete steps and an agenda of action with a timeline that they both can execute .

What we have done so far is important and as we remain engaged we will acquire a new "vocabulary" , perhaps a new "hermeneutics" yet an agenda jointly of concrete action is a practical exercise that would bind us more firmly to achieve. 

Tikkun `alaam.

Round Five - one message selected by both groups together

An Agenda for Southern California

We have agreed on the need to place activism in behalf of human rights at the center of our shared agenda, to honor each other's faith traditions, to promote respect and understanding between our communities, to actively interrupt the teaching of hate and to create activities and actions in Southern California which could further these agendas in our local communities and in the Middle East.  I would like to see us focus on several areas:

1) Establish spiritual partnering between local synagogues and mosques for the study of text, history and values that emphasizes Muslim and Jewish convivencia.

2) Establish joint efforts to monitor and respond to human rights violations of the Muslim community in Sourthern California in relationship to the Patriot Act, as well as monitor anti-Jewish actions as they occur in our communities. 

3) Actively promote Jewish and Palestinian peacemakers who work together toward coexistence and an end to state and communal violence in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and the Middle East as part of our work together.

4) Actively promote the bringing together of youth in our communities and involve them in work for human rights that arise from their concerns.

5) Bring together circles of Muslim and Jewish women who can support each other and learn about each other's unique role in Muslim and Jewish life.

Salaam, Shalom 

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

The dialogue was coordinated by Roger Eaton, who may be contacted at rogereaton@earthlink.net or phone 415 933 0153.  Your queries are welcome.

For more about the dialogue process, see the Group Dialog home page.  The Model page in particular explains some of the thinking behind the process.

last changed July 10, 2010