Study: Jews, Muslims share same anxieties

Members of the interfaith Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom participated in a model seder on Sunday in Silver Spring. A new study found that 38 percent of Muslims and 27 percent of Jews fear for their personal safety from white supremacists.
Photo by Pam Gilden

The people who hate Muslims also hate Jews, and that prejudice is taking a toll on both communities.

A survey by a nonprofit organization dedicated to studying Muslims in the United States found that this link between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism is felt by members of the two religious groups. The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding study shows that 38 percent of Muslims and 27 percent of Jews fear for their personal safety from white supremacists, far more than any other religious group.

“I think it’s really important to keep in mind the link between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia,” said Dalia Mogahed, a researcher who helped to run the study. Mogahed was also involved with a 2010 Gallup survey that found that more than political affiliation, age, gender or race, the biggest single predictor of whether someone is prejudiced against Muslims is whether that person is prejudiced against Jews.

“There’s an incorrect myth that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are opposites or that people who are Islamophobic have a positive view of Jews, when in fact the two bigotries are closely linked,” she said.

Walter Ruby, the program director of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which promotes cooperation and understanding between Muslims and Jews, said that examples of solidarity between the groups in recent months “very much jibe with what the poll says.”

He pointed to the examples of Muslims who have raised funds for desecrated Jewish cemeteries and of Jews who have opposed the Trump administration’s travel bans on people from majority Muslim countries.

“There is a common interest, a common sense of vulnerability,” he said.

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said that the fact that both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are so closely linked should be a “point of solidarity” between the two religious groups. But he added that the two groups should find common cause not only for negative reasons, but because of the common experience of being religious minorities in the United States.

He added that the historical experience of Jews as a persecuted group should lead to Jews finding common cause with Muslims, but he acknowledged that in recent years Muslims have been targeted more overtly than Jews.

“I try to emphasize that the Jewish community, because of its historical experience, is exquisitely sensitive to threats of anti-Semitism, but hasn’t suffered physically the way the Muslim community has since 9/11,” he said. “I make the comparison between the Muslim and Jewish experiences to emphasize the empathy the groups should feel toward one another.”

Mogahed said that what is most striking to her in the ISPU study was the toll that anti-Muslim rhetoric by President Donald Trump and other politicians has had on the community. She pointed to statistics in the study that show high levels of anxiety in the Muslim community.

“What really stands out to me is the impact of the divisive rhetoric that we’ve seen in the past two years,” she said. “What stands out to me is the human cost of hate.”

Ruby, who has worked to bring together Jews and Muslims for more than a decade, said he was encouraged to see an increased desire among the two groups to work together since the presidential election in the face of anti-Semitic graffiti and rumors that the Trump administration could put into place a registry of Muslims.

“The desire to work together has been supercharged since Nov. 8 and what’s come since. There’s real anxiety in both communities,” he said. “In the Jewish community there’s been a desire to be there for the other. Jewish leaders are saying that if there’s a Muslim registry, they’d register for it. That was really inspiring.”

The ISPU study, which was conducted in January, shows similarities between the situations in which Jews and Muslims find themselves following Trump’s election.

The two groups were the least likely to look favorably upon Trump’s electoral victory; the survey found that 15 percent of Muslims and 23 percent of Jews saw the win in a positive light. Jews and Muslims are also the religious groups most likely to support Black Lives Matter, the grassroots civil rights group that has protested shootings by police: 66 percent of Muslims and 57 percent of Jews support it, in contrast to 45 percent of the general public.

But the ISPU survey showed that the two groups are opposites in other ways. Jews are on average the oldest religious group in the country, while Muslims are the youngest. Muslims are the most ethnically diverse, while Jews are the least. And Muslims are the poorest, while Jews are the wealthiest.

Ruby said that these class and demographic differences aren’t barriers in his work of bringing the two groups together, but he said that disagreements over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be get in the way of Jewish-Muslim relations. But Jews and Muslims can often find a way to “disagree respectfully” about Middle East politics and “not let the issue short circuit” his organization’s mission, he said.

The ISPU conducted the study, which shows statistics about Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants and nonaffiliated people, by polling the general public and then conducting separate surveys of Muslims and Jews; sampling the general public does not produce enough Muslims and Jews to find detailed information about breakdowns within those two religious groups.

Mogahed said she believes the survey is important, given the amount of discussion about Muslims in the United States.

“We talk about and we debate about the Muslim American community, but rarely do we hear from that community in a systematic, empirical fashion,” she said. “Our hope is that this research is used to better inform the public and policymakers and to help the media with reporting.”

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