Jews and Muslims Need to Join Forces After Pittsburgh

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- What if the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last weekend could produce something constructive: a new Jewish-Muslim partnership in the U.S.?

Not a dialogue — we've had plenty of those — but an organized alliance to defend the civil rights, legal standing and communal safety of both religious minorities from the toxic white nationalism of the Donald Trump era.

The 11 murdered victims at the synagogue were Jewish, but there's not a single Muslim-American who doesn't know that the next casualties could be Muslim. The accused killer, Robert Bowers, said so himself when he wrote on a social media platform that serves as a safe space for the nationalist right, “It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!”

White supremacy has always been aimed at African-Americans, though bigots have also targeted Irish, Italian, German, Chinese, Japanese, Slavic and other immigrant groups at various times in U.S. history. Today's jingoist panic focuses on Latino immigrants, who are supposedly invading the country and creating a post-white, "minority-majority" America.

Where do Jews and Muslims come into it? In the front and the back, as it happens.

Bowers was obsessed with the immigration-related hysteria that characterizes the paranoid style of contemporary U.S. politics and has been shaped by Trump's talk of foreign "rapists" and "animals" coming to "infest our country."

Trump's allies on social media and Fox News have cynically and falsely accused the billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros of funding illegal immigration, notably the caravan of bedraggled would-be refugees from Central America that is slowly working its way north through Mexico. Soros, who is Jewish, has long been a target of anti-Semitic slurs. Now he's become a central figure in Republican political advertising that resurrects classic anti-Semitic stereotypes of the sneaky Jewish plutocrat.

And the Muslims? Trump himself tweeted that the caravan was dangerous because "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in" to it.

In other words, Jews are behind the caravan, pulling the strings. And Muslims are at the front, sneaking in to wreak terror.

That's the bizarre fantasy Bowers was invoking in his rant about Jews and Muslims. And it appears to be what incited him to shoot worshipers at the synagogue.

American Jews and Muslims face an intertwined threat. It's an understatement to say that they need each other now.

Which brings us to Israel and Palestine. There can't be an effective U.S. Jewish-Muslim coalition as long as Middle Eastern politics divides the two camps.

The key to making the alliance work is for each side to stop demanding agreement from the other when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead, Jews and Muslims should be able to acknowledge that each has a fact-based narrative about the past 100 years that makes both perspectives legitimate.

In the end, Israelis and Arabs will have to shape their own futures. American Jews and Muslims won't be drawing the lines in the Middle East. But they will determine their own fates and the fate of their children.

That should give them plenty of incentive to work together to defend their interests even while disagreeing about Israel.

And the mainstreams of both communities need to do more to cleanse their own ranks of Islamophobes and anti-Semites.

Several Jewish groups have been at the forefront of opposing the Trump administration's ban on travel from seven countries, five with Muslim majorities. Muslim groups raised $180,000 in three days for victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings and have become increasingly vocal about rising anti-Semitism.

That's a good start, but it's not enough. Anti-Semitism is alive and thriving. Islamophobia is essentially the same narrative directed against Muslims. Jews and Muslims can fight both more effectively together than separately.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

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