American Muslims reach out to Jews after cemetery vandalism

Amongst first to offer assis­tance, including raising funds and going to the cemeteries to help right toppled stones, were Muslim-Americans.

2017/03/05 Issue: 96 Page: 17

The Arab Weekly
Tom Regan

Attacks against Muslims and Jews in the United States started to increase in 2015 and seemed to pick up speed when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president of the United States that same year.

It would be wrong to directly blame Trump for the rise of white supremacist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric in the United States but it is anecdotally known that far-right groups have been extremely happy with Trump’s candidacy and election win.

The result has been a surge in attacks against Muslims and Jews in the United States. An Indian engineer was killed February 22nd by a man who reportedly mistakenly thought the victim was from the Middle East. The Southern Poverty Law Center said reported anti-Muslim hate groups nearly tripled in 2016 compared to the previous year.

Threats against Jewish com­munity centres and schools have skyrocketed. More than a dozen bomb threats were made in various states on February 27th, bringing the total to more than 60 in recent weeks.

There have been other violent acts, such as the toppling of gravestones in Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia. It’s not unusual that cemeteries are attacked in this way but these attacks seem targeted and therefore particularly chilling. In St. Louis, more than 100 tomb­stones were vandalised. In Philadelphia, dozens of tomb­stones were toppled or destroyed.

Yet this dark moment has allowed something important to happen. In both instances, amongst the first to offer assis­tance, including raising funds and going to the cemeteries to help right the toppled stones, were Muslim-Americans.

In St. Louis, Muslim-American activists Linda Sarsour and Tarek el-Messidi launched a fundrais­ing effort to help repair toppled headstones. They had hoped to raise about $20,000 but the effort brought in $130,000. Messidi wrote on Facebook that some of the money originally raised for St. Louis would go to help repair the tombstones in Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Commu­nity USA went to the cemetery to help restore toppled tombstones.

“Seeing this in person was very devastating,” Messidi wrote on Facebook after visiting the cemetery in Philadelphia. “Many people there were embracing one another in tears due to what they saw.”

“I want to ask all Muslims to reach out to your Jewish brothers and sisters and stand together against this bigotry,” he said.

Jews have been reaching out to Muslims as well. When the mosque in Victoria, Texas, was burned in January, the small town’s Jews gave their Muslim neighbours the key to the synagogue to use for services. And after the mosque in Tampa, Florida, was firebombed once again, an online fundraising effort to pay for repairs was inundated with donations from Jewish residents.

Relations between Jews and Muslims in the United States have never been as bad as they are in the Middle East but they aren’t perfect either. Both sides care deeply about issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, terrorism in the Middle East and in America and the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement. It appears, however, that being common victims of the extremist rhetoric and violence of the American far-right is offering an opportunity to bring the two communities together.

Trump has been relatively quiet about what is happening to the Muslim and Jewish commu­nities. While quick to condemn terrorist acts abroad, he is silent when American Muslims are targeted and was slow to make a statement about anti-Semitism. Even that, many Jewish leaders felt, was incomplete and insin­cere.

Yet this may be a silver lining. If the American-Muslim and Jewish communities find more ways to work together and support each other through these threats and attacks, then Trump’s hateful rhetoric will have created something positive — empathy.

Tom Regan, a columnist at, previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, the Boston Globe and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He is the former executive director of the Online News Association and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1992.

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