SARASOTA COUNTY -- In a visit to Sarasota this week, Israel's leading Florida diplomat said that Muslims will never accept Jews and Christians in the Middle East.
Yitschak Ben Gad, consul general of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico, said Muslims will always regard people of other faiths as second-class citizens.
"They hate the Christians in Lebanon and they hate the Jews in Israel," Ben Gad said.
Ben Gad was in Sarasota to meet with local Jewish groups and U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Longboat Key.
In an interview Tuesday, the diplomat, who has written three books on the Middle East, was far from conciliatory.
"I'm not saying all Muslims are terrorists, but I can say something else: All terrorists are Muslims," Ben Gad said.
His words brought a sharp rebuke from Ahmed Bedier, Central Florida director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an American-Muslim civil rights advocacy group.
"When high-level diplomats make remarks like this, it has a direct effect on anti-Muslim sentiments and anti-Muslim hate crimes," Bedier said. "People believe what their leaders say and it could push them over the edge to commit a violent act based on hatred."
Bedier cited passages and chapters in the Quran that honor and elevate Christians and Jewish people and their prophets. He also pointed out that Muslims are allowed to marry Christians and Jews.
"It's unfortunate that someone in such a high position lacks some of the basic understanding of the Muslim faith," Bedier said.