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Jewish and Muslim attempt at harmony hits flat note

    Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman (Photo: John Rifkin)
    Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman (Photo: John Rifkin)

    Muslim and Jewish leaders have united in calling for stronger collaboration between their communities in the wake of the Gaza conflict.

    In an unprecedented joint statement, the Board of Deputies and the Muslim Council of Britain condemned civilian deaths as tragic and called for efforts to avoid them.

    They also condemned any expression of antisemitism, Islamophobia and racism generally, calling on both communities to “redouble efforts to work together and get to know one another”.

    But the statement was not without controversy, with both sides unable to agree the exact meaning behind one key line.

    The line reads: “The targeting of civilians is completely unacceptable and against our religious traditions.”

    A Board spokesman had suggested that this could be read as a specific MCB criticism of Hamas, something the MCB rejected.

    A spokeswoman for the Muslim group said they believed both parties had understood that the line refered to the targeting of civilians by both Israel and Hamas.

    She said: “It refers to both sides, Israel and Hamas. It’s civilians that pay the price. On both sides.”

    However, the Board categorically denied this. A spokesman said: “We are very clear that the IDF does not target civilians; that’s why we felt able to sign it.”

    And he said it was completely untrue to suggest that the Board was “in some way condemning the IDF”.

    The statement is seen as the most significant step forward for both groups in the past five years.

    Relations were frozen in 2009 when the MCB’s then deputy secretary general, Daud Abdullah, signed the notorious Istanbul Declaration which threatened violence against Israel supporters and British troops.

    The MCB had previously boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day, but that stance was reversed and work has been ongoing to repair relations with Jewish groups.

    Joint work has taken place on issues relating to kosher and halal food.

    The statement said both communities had a right to political protest, in person and online through social media, but demonstrators must act responsibly.

    “There can be no excuse for racism, violence, or other forms of intimidation, when expressing views in the media, on the streets, outside shops or online.”

    The MCB has been vocal in its opposition to Israel’s Protective Edge operation in Gaza. It lobbied David Cameron to impose an arms embargo and said the IDF was “determined to make the life of Palestinians a misery”.

    Dr Shuja Shafi, MCB secretary general, praised Baroness Warsi’s resignation from the government, saying she had acted for all those “horrified by the brutality of the Israeli war machine against the people of Gaza”.

    He had called on the government to “speak out more firmly against the government in Tel Aviv and pressurise them to stop their bloody campaign and end the siege on Gaza”.

    While also backing a boycott of products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Muslim group had repeatedly warned supporters not to cross the line into antisemitic discourse when attacking Israel.

    Dr Shafi issued a statement last month urging both communities to act with “civility and courtesy” and avoid a break in relations between British Muslims and Jews.

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