It’s been a rough summer for Jewish-Muslim relations, and the end of summer doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the tension.
As the Interfaith Partnership of Metropolitan St. Louis celebrates its 20th anniversary today, protesters will greet those arriving at the Frontenac Hilton Hotel for the annual fundraising dinner.
The protest leaders say the interfaith organization was insensitive to some in the Muslim community when it invited Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, to be the evening’s keynote speaker. The topic is “Building Bridges: The Power of Interfaith Alliances, at Home and Abroad.”
“The ADL is NOT an advocate for tolerance and understanding amongst different faiths,” Khaled A. Hamid, a St. Charles allergist who helped organize the protests, wrote in an e-mail to drum up support. “It is a propaganda and public relations group blindly supporting the aggressive policies of Israel and using scare tactics to silence any opposition or criticism of Israel.”
Orvin T. Kimbrough, Interfaith Partnership’s executive director, acknowledged the controversy Wednesday and said he’d met with several concerned groups over the past two months, calling it “an extremely difficult time for us.”
The bi-state partnership’s mission, according to its website, “is to promote peace, respect, and understanding among people of all faiths.” Kimbrough said his organization began with a list of 10 speakers they’d hoped to get for today’s dinner, including former South African president Nelson Mandela and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Speakers at past dinners have included Bishop Thomas Hoyt Jr., of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and former president of the National Council of Churches, and Jeffery Huffines, representative to the United Nations for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States.
For this year’s program, the partnership’s leaders eventually agreed on Foxman, who, as it turns out, could not make it out of Israel in time to be at today’s dinner. Karen J. Aroesty, the ADL’s regional director for Missouri and Southern Illinois, said Wednesday that the agency’s deputy national director, Kenneth Jacobson, would replace Foxman.
Kamal Yassin, a spokesman for the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the group talked about calling for a communitywide protest of the dinner. “At first, we thought it was better to stay outside the dinner because we were so upset, but then after some discussion, we decided to be a part of it,” he said. “If the talk goes in a certain direction, we can take it up from the inside.”
Yassin said that in the context of interfaith dialogue, Foxman was an inappropriate choice.
“Mr. Foxman does a great job defending Israel, but at this sensitive point in the Middle East, many will only see the times he equates Muslims with terrorists,” Yassin said. “And I’m worried that the ADL’s involvement could stain the reputation of the Interfaith Partnership, which would be a big loss for St. Louis.”