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AFTER THE ATTACK

Jewish-Muslim Dialogue Newly Tested

Reaction: Leaders say a Web site photograph and some radio comments are divisive and hateful.

September 22, 2001|LARRY B. STAMMER | TIMES RELIGION WRITER

Reactions by Los Angeles' Jewish and Muslim leaders to last week's terrorist attacks have put new strains on the two groups' already-tenuous relationship.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a pro-Israel organization that tracks anti-Semitic activities worldwide, posted a picture on its Web site showing jubilant Palestinian youths celebrating the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Muslims charged that the photograph fanned "the flames of ethnic and religious hatred." A handful of Muslims held a brief press conference Friday in front of the center's West Los Angeles headquarters. The photograph was removed from the Web site shortly before.

Meanwhile, a Los Angeles Muslim leader told a radio interviewer that Israel should be put on the "suspect list" of those behind the destruction of the World Trade Center. On Friday, two Jewish leaders called the remarks by Salaam Al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, "irresponsible and inflammatory."

At least two Jewish leaders who have supported Al-Marayati's participation in the on-again, off-again dialogue between Muslim and Jewish leaders say that he should withdraw or explicitly apologize.

Both sides sought Friday to cool the rhetoric and to reaffirm the importance of Jewish-Muslim dialogue. They were joined a day earlier by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who called the second interfaith meeting in a week to build political and religious cohesion in one of the nation's most ethnically diverse counties.

Still, the incidents pointed to the rawness of political and religious sensitivities at a time when President Bush and others are calling for national unity.

Al-Marayati was interviewed the day of the terrorist attacks, by Warren Olney on KCRW-FM's "Which Way, LA?" According to a transcript provided by the Anti-Defamation League, an organization created to defend Jews against anti-Semitism, Olney asked: "Are you worried about another spate of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States?"

Al-Marayati replied: "Yes, we're warning about generalizations that will only aid the criminals who perpetrated this deplorable act and really hurt innocent people. . . . "

The discussion then turned to suspects. According to the transcript, Al-Marayati said, "If we're going to look at suspects, we should look to the groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the state of Israel on the suspect list because I think this diverts attention from what's happening in the Palestinian territories so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies. Why not put all the suspects on the list, instead of going ahead and shooting from the hip and saying those people did it and bombing the cornfields of Afghanistan and pharmaceutical factories of Sudan. . . ."

David A. Lehrer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he will not join any dialogue involving Al-Marayati.

"I've had a long relationship with Salaam, and I am so disillusioned with what he has done in the past week as to not be interested in engaging in a dialogue with him," Lehrer said.

Rabbi John I. Rosove of Temple Israel in Hollywood said he found Al-Marayati's statements "so offensive and provocative that I am in crisis as to whether I am going to stay in dialogue."

Al-Marayati said Friday that the quotation is accurate but out of context. He said an earlier guest on the show said that Islamic "Wahhabism," a radical anti-Western form of Islam, was behind the attacks. (On the day of the interview, authorities had not yet linked Islamic terrorists to the attacks.)

"My point [Sept. 11] was to say [that] if you're going to accuse political Islam, then Muslims will accuse political Zionists, and we both should not do that," Al-Marayati said Friday. He said he made that point when Olney invited him back Sept. 12 to explain.

On Friday, Al-Marayati said he also sent clarifications to various Jewish leaders. He did not call them apologies.

Al-Marayati's explanation Friday was deemed to be "irrelevant" by the Wiesenthal Center's Cooper. Baca said he was also concerned.

"We need to carefully concern ourselves with the feelings of other individuals and not engage in rhetoric that just inflames divisiveness," Baca said he told civic, business and religious leaders at a meeting Thursday at his office.

"Any subject of discussion relative to who suspects may or may not be--obviously we now know who the suspects are--is a police matter, an FBI matter," Baca said Friday. "People shouldn't be accusing innocent people of being criminals, or even alluding to innocent people being criminals."

Among those attending Baca's interfaith meeting were Gov. Gray Davis and county Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky.

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