Interfaith tensions rise in Britain and France

By Marcus Dysch and Rebecca Assoun, January 22, 2009

Interfaith groups are attempting to preserve lines of communication amid the fallout from events in the Middle East.

British-based organisations say their members are working to remain united despite events in Gaza, but in France tensions have risen after Muslims quit the country’s only Jewish-Muslim forum.

Jane Clements, director of the UK-based Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine (Fodip) said the past month had created “difficulties. When these things happen it always points out that relations are not improving.

“One of the most disheartening things is how Christian groups have been re-engaging in everything from casual antisemitism to full-blown comments.”

Stephen Shashoua, director of the Three Faiths Forum, said the feeling was that “the elephant in the room has blown his trumpet.

“We do not need to talk directly about what’s happening over there, but about the effect on community relations here,” he said.

On Monday, the Joseph Interfaith Foundation and the Forum against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR) issued a joint statement condemning antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks and calling on communities to work together.

Rabbi Hershel Gluck, co-chairman of the Muslim-Jewish Forum, said relations were strong enough to withstand the pressures of the past month.

“We are not just good weather friends. We see the conflict through different perspectives, but nevertheless we sit at the same table and discuss it in a civil manner,” he said.

But in France, Dalil Boubakeur, chairman of the Paris Mosque, led the exit from the Jewish-Muslim Friendship group, which was founded in 2004.

The co-president of the group, Djelloul Seddiki, blamed Jewish counterparts for “the total lack of condemnation of the Israeli offensive in Gaza”, adding: “They didn’t call any more after the start of the war. Now we don’t speak any more.”

“This is a worrying sign of a very deep tension between the two communities,” said Bernard Koch, a Jewish ex-member of the association.

Mr Koch now works with Hassan Chalghoumi, imam of Drancy, as an adviser on Jewish affairs.

Mr Chalghoumi has faced threats for his public calls for Muslims worldwide to respect the memory of the Holocaust, including what happened at Drancy, where French Jews were gathered before being deported to the Nazi camps.

Since the Gaza operation began, Mr Chalghoumi has been under police protection after condemning rising antisemitism.

Last updated: 1:52pm, January 22 2009