A Jewish Voice For Philadelphia’s Muslims
02/26/14
Staff Writer
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Four months after Jacob Bender, a Jewish filmmaker from Manhattan, was appointed to a symbolically landmark position with an American Muslim organization, he says he is serving as an example of interfaith tolerance.

But a Jewish spokesman in Philadelphia, where Bender is executive director of that city’s branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations, says the historic appointment has not noticeably changed the Jewish community’s ties with CAIR.

Jacob Bender, 63, is the first non-Muslim — and the first Jew — to lead a chapter of the prominent Islamic advocacy group. A Los Angeles native who lives on the Upper West Side, he commutes weekly to Philadelphia, where he serves as the public voice of the city’s Muslims, focusing on countering anti-Muslim discrimination.

“The Muslim community is under attack from Islamophobic forces, and it is the responsibility of people of good will to stand up and say this is a bigoted attack,” Bender says in a telephone interview. “This is in keeping with my life goals.” He has served as a documentary filmmaker in this country and in Israel, where he worked for Yad Vashem and the Ministry of Education.

Adam Kessler, director of Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council, which coordinates relations with other religions and ethnic groups, says his organization has had no contact with CAIR since Bender joined, and he has not “noticed a change” in the work of Philadelphia’s CAIR chapter, which deals mostly with local issues.

Bender’s appointment is “certainly a step in the right direction,” sending a message of interfaith acceptance in the Muslim community, Kessler says, “but actions speak louder than symbols.”

According to Bender, “I don’t think there was a conscious effort” by CAIR to hire a Jew; he added that his experience as director of several documentaries with Jewish-Islamic themes, and his background in Jewish-Islamic dialogue, made him an appealing candidate.

“The needs of the Muslim community are really the needs of any minority community in the United States,” Iftekhar Hussein, chairman of CAIR-Philadelphia’s board of directors, said in a prepared statement when Bender’s appointment was announced. “Jacob, being Jewish, understands that from his own background.”

Bender says his appointment drew attention in the general community and a “warm reception” in Muslim circles. The reaction was less enthusiastic among some Jews. “Some folks in the Jewish community have been less than kind about my appointment, and accused me of being a ‘traitor’ to my people.”

Some coverage of Bender’s appointment highlighted his longtime involvement in interfaith activities, but some websites called him an “Israel-hating leftist Jewish traitor” (barenakedislam.com) and “CAIR’s Court Jew” (frontpagemag.com).

While CAIR has defended the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab head covering on the workplace, worked against anti-Muslim stereotypes in the media, and conducted diversity/sensitivity training seminars for members of the FBI and U.S. military, the Anti-Defamation League has accused CAIR of holding “extreme positions” on Israel and having links to individuals and groups that had expressed support for terror organizations.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he will reserve judgment on Bender’s appointment. “Only time will tell,” Foxman said. “The fact that he is Jewish does not indicate, necessarily, a change of attitude and activity at CAIR. Unfortunately, there are Jews who are anti-Jewish and anti-Israel. Bender’s views that are already on the record are not encouraging. But we will wait and see.”

steve@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

03/02/2014 - 16:12

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Sorry. All I had to see was "“The Muslim community is under attack from Islamophobic forces..." to suspect Muslim propaganda.

The US isn't perfect - there's plenty of prejudice targeted at various groups. However, this mantra of the "Muslim community under attack" has been heard since shortly after 9/11.

I live in an area of the country where many Muslim women wear headscarves along with their long outer-coverings - they are very obvious in the summer. Never *once* have I witnessed anyone even staring at them, calling names, etc.. I've not seen any actions towards Muslims in the US that could be characterized as Islamophobia. I don't hear anyone say anything prejudicial towards the Muslims in our area.

I'm not saying it doesn't exist - it's just not to the point I'd label it Islamophobia, These would be isolated incidents. There are isolated incidents of Anti-Semitism in the US as well. I'd not label the US having a Jewphobia problem.

However, I do hear people voice their concern regarding the violence towards non-Muslims we see around the world. Voicing this concern is not Islamophobia. No violent action, I'm aware of, has been directed towards Muslims because of this concern.

I'm not Islamophobic. I'm Islamaverse. Totally different.

Interfaith is forbidden by Judaism.

The Seven Universal Noachide Laws for all Humanity are given by G-D Al-mighty to all the other nations of the world and not their religions.

HAVE WE MUSLIMS RUN OUT OF QUALIFIED MUSLIMS, OR HAVE WE SOLD OUT!!!
STUDY THE HOLY QURA'AN TO RECEIVE YOUR QUIDENCE FROMIT ONLY, DO I NEED TO SAY MORE TO THOSE WHO VIOLATE THE HOLY QURAN QUIDENCE !!!

AL-SHAIKH:
ABU-OMAR YAH'YA ALMUBARAC
THE 84 YEARS OLD MUSLIM-ARAB-AMERICAN AND LIFE TIME VICTIMS RIGHTS ADVOCATE

Congratulations to CAIR and Mr. Bender for taking this courageous step. May be his actions will cause more Jewish folks to speak up. Please treat him as you would like him to treat you.

Bender's appointment is indeed a historic step forward and a proactive gesture on the part of both Muslims and Jews. There should be more involvement from both sides to help and support each other's legitimate causes. Thus, the bigotry and hate will begin to dissipate and a new and better relationship will emerge out this initiatives. Muslims by virtue of being Muslims do not and must not hold one for the crime of other, the Zionists. So, it should be easy for Muslims to appreciate and promote such collaborative effort under the rubric of Interfaith relationship. We know now that tens of thousands of Jews are anti-Zionism and Pro-Palestinian cause against occupation and brutality, who deserve to be honored and rewarded, may be by working together. Cheer.

Pretty pathetic journalism when you give space to opinions from websites like 'barenakedislam'. What were you chaps thinking?

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