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Reality check: Konrad Adenauer Foundation brings Muslim leaders to Holocaust sites

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Visiting Dachau last month are Dr. Norbert Wagner, Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Imam Syed Naqvi, Nasreen Bedat, Special Envoy Hannah S. Rosenthal, Sheik Yasir Qadhi, Imam Abdullah Antepli, Imam Suhaib Webb (behind Antepli), Dr. Syed Syeed, Imam Muhammad Maged, Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, Suhail A. Khan, and Prof. Marshall Breger. Photos Courtesy Center for Interreligious Understanding

Rabbi Jack Bemporad wants it known that the visit he organized of eight Muslim-American leaders to concentration camps was a historic success.

Bemporad, director of the Carlstadt-based Center for Interreligious Understanding, called the Aug. 7 to 11 trip to Auschwitz in Poland and Dachau in Germany “a breakthrough in many respects, because … we took imams like [Yasir] Qadhi, for example,” who 10 years ago called the Holocaust a hoax. (Bemporad led the trip, which was sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, with Prof. Marshall Breger of the Catholic University of America.)

“The problem is,” said Bemporad, an Englewood resident, that “many imams came out of Saudi Arabia and Egypt because that’s where they get their education. That’s very unfortunate. The education they get is in many ways based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” he explained. “The single greatest instrument of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in the world today, it gives the erroneous view that the Jews are a devilish group that wants to control the world by dominating the press, economies,” and so forth.

One reason that proven fraud is invoked, he said, “is to diminish the significance of the Holocaust. The whole point is to show that the Holocaust was an invention to take Israel and have a beachhead in the Middle East that should really be Muslim.

“The best way to convince people of a reality they are not sure of is to expose them to that reality in a way that is undeniable.”

Thus, he said, even “many who accepted the Holocaust never had a sense of the reality and the totality of it. As a result practically all of us were in tears or broke down” at the concentration camps.

“The main point,” said Bemporad, “is that … they are using this experience in their services and talking to their people — that’s talking about tens of thousands of people.”

Also, he said, “They want Jews to speak in mosques about this reality so they can unite with us to condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

Meanwhile, a rumor swirled around the blogosphere, and was discussed at sites like Politico and Salon, that Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, had lobbied against the trip. That, together with the ADL’s recent opposition to the planned mosque at Ground Zero, fueled speculations that he, the defender of bias against Jews, was biased against Muslims.

But Foxman told The Jewish Standard on Tuesday that there had been “a lot of noise and not so much light…. Nobody bothers to check the facts anymore,” he complained. “All of a sudden you will read [an allegation] in God knows how many places as a fact.”

What he did, he told the Standard, was question the participation of Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s anti-Semitism envoy. He said he had “shared with her a concern” about the appropriateness of a government representative’s joining a private mission. “Unfortunately,” he said, “it didn’t stay there and took on a life of its own.”

He had “no problem with [the Muslim leaders] going” on the trip, he said, adding, “I welcome the fact that they returned with the statement that they did.”

 
 

Iman trip to Nazi camps spurs project to fight religious hate speech

Just weeks after returning from unprecedented investigation of Nazi-era death camps, American Jewish and Muslim interfaith activists have announced their intent to form a national organization aimed at combating religious hate speech in all of its forms.

During a Capitol Hill briefing on Sept. 22 — in which several D.C.-area Muslim leaders reported to lawmakers about the recent educational trip they took to Auschwitz and Dachau — the Muslim and Jewish activists vowed to join forces in an effort to battle anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic rhetoric that they say too often imbues contentious national political debates.

The yet-to-be-named project will “set up a structure that would give” moderate Muslim leaders “a megaphone” from which to denounce extremism, said Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Carlstadt-based Center for Interreligious Understanding. A lead organizer of the group, he also helped plan the August trip to Auschwitz and Dachau.

The interfaith activists also will work to prevent the proliferation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic tract that is easily procured in the Muslim world and many Muslim American communities.

The group’s other core organizers — who also were present at the Capitol Hill briefing — include Marshall Breger, an Orthodox Jew who is a law professor at Catholic University in Washington; Sayyid Syeed, national director for the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances; and Mohamed Magid, imam and executive director of the ADAMS Center (All Dulles Area Muslim Society).

Members of the group were scheduled to gather in the District for their first formal meeting on Tuesday, and, following that, to hold a briefing at the National Press Club in Washington. Organizers said they eventually aim to bring Christian leaders into the project as well.

The effort comes as Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Reform movement, have independently stepped up efforts to combat anti-Muslim bigotry.

Syeed said the group represents a natural evolution in the growing relationship between the American Muslim and Jewish communities.

Syeed also recalled that after returning to America following the trip to Auschwitz, he was greeted by a vitriolic national debate surrounding the proposed Muslim community center located several blocks from Ground Zero in New York City.

“This has been a difficult time” for Muslims, as many Americans are gripped by Islamaphobia, Syeed said, adding that as the mosque debate intensified, “we noticed that the Jewish community has come forward and been the most public supporters of the mosque.”

The new interfaith effort, he added, is a byproduct of this relationship.

Bemporad noted that the seeds of the group were sown as debate around the Muslim community center intensified.

“I see similar patterns in the way Muslims are being treated to the way Jews and even Catholics” have been treated at earlier times in America’s history, he said.

Added Suhail Khan, another lead organizer of the group and senior fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement: “Rather than holding hands and singing Kumbaya,” the group will “bring people together to be the responsible adults in the room” by addressing controversial issues that can adequately be addressed by the religious community.

Washington Jewish Week

 
 
 
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