If murdering innocent men, women and children at prayer in a
house of worship is not evil, then the word has no meaning. The white-supremacy
abomination in Christchurch against our Muslim brothers and sisters shakes us
all to our core and forces us to look for explanation and answers.
I was in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, after a book tour in Australia, to present an award for historical memory to a distinguished New Zealand artist. I also addressed members of the Jewish community and beyond on the book I recently co-authored with actress Pamela Anderson on relationships. I had visited the islands several times before and was always mesmerized by their beauty and the country’s friendliness. New Zealanders are a peace-loving nation of five million people and about 40 million sheep, which dot the gorgeous rolling green hills as small specks of white.
In arriving in New Zealand, you have to make sure that you’re not carrying any fruits or vegetables with you, as the country takes its agricultural laws very seriously. I was thinking of this over the past few days, as I pondered the end of New Zealand’s innocence.
We in the United States can likewise remember a time when getting onto an airplane did not involve anything like the rigorous security checks we now endure in the wake of 9/11. New Zealand will now have to deepen its security protocols, as it has learned that evil is a global phenomenon from which no country is immune.
Hatred has no borders. It spreads like a virus and is contagious. We in the Jewish community have learned this throughout our history, as we have faced persecution and annihilation in so many of the countries in which we have resided. The painful experience of the recent Pittsburgh bloody attack reminds us that, even in the United States, we Jews are not immune.
Now, our Muslim brothers and sisters are being targeted by neo-Nazis for mass shootings as well. White supremacists, who murdered six million Jews last century, are rearing their vile heads in acts of lethal brutality.
It should lead our two communities to forging deeper ties and bonds of brotherhood. Not just because we are both targets, but because we have so many mutual values and goals.
Around the world, shechita, Jewish ritual slaughter, is being banned, along with circumcision. The same laws, especially in Europe, seek to ban Muslim ritual slaughter, halal, and male Muslim ritual circumcision. In some countries, Muslims and Jews are already working together to stop these unfair assaults against religious observance. Now, we should do the same to stop the growth of white nationalist attacks against our two communities.
I am well aware that Muslims and Jews will not necessarily agree on Israel and the Middle East political landscape. But there are plenty of communities that work closely together in vital areas amid serious disagreements in others.
I arrived to serve as rabbi at Oxford University in 1988. The great Israel battles on campus were just beginning, in part because the PLO had been legitimized through Yasser Arafat declaring, under American pressure, that he accepts Israel’s right to exist. Our organization, the Oxford University L’Chaim Society – of which both Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ambassador Ron Dermer served as president – hosted six Israeli prime ministers at Oxford to counter the anti-Israel offensive.
One of our principal opponents at the time was the Oxford Middle East Society, comprised mostly of Arab and Muslim students, who hosted leading Palestinian officials, such as Hanan Ashrawi, to make the case against Israel.
Yet there were many personal friendships between the two organizations, even as we battled it out over Middle East policy. Our policy disputes did not trickle down into personal animus. The L’Chaim Society regularly hosted Muslim students – many of whom were scions of distinguished Arab families – and we also helped provide kosher meat to halal students who did not have direct halal options. I remember so well how Dermer, then a student in his early twenties, counted Muslim students among his closest friends, even as he led our organization in passionate pro-Israel advocacy.
So much has changed since then. On campus especially we see the growing alienation of the two camps, especially as criticism of Israel has deteriorated into demonization.
But it need not be so.
After the Pittsburgh massacre, we witnessed Muslim organizations joining to show comfort and pay respects to the Jewish victims and their families. And now, after New Zealand, the same applies, as Jewish organizations throughout the world have offered comfort and support to our Muslim brothers and sisters in this time of unspeakable horror.
We are all equally God’s children, a fact that white supremacists especially wish to deny. The very essence of being a racist is to believe in a hierarchy of races, with some being more human than others. No belief is in greater violation of the Torah than this evil idea that not all are created equally in God’s image.
The Torah, the New Testament and the Quran all equally affirm the teaching of Genesis that God created all humanity in His image. It is the white nationalist neo-Nazis who deny it.
We held our son Dovid Chaim’s bar mitzvah in Jerusalem recently and on the way we stopped in Spain and toured the great historical areas of Jewish-Muslim cooperation in the golden age of Spanish Jewry. I wanted to show my children a place where Jews and Muslims worshiped God together without strife. We visited Cordoba, where Maimonides was born. And though this greatest of rabbis was forced to flee under the Islamic persecution of the Almohads, he ultimately found refuge as the personal physician to the greatest Muslim ruler of all, Sultan Saladin.
We Jews mourn the Christchurch slaughter along with our Muslim brothers and sisters and pray for a time when the evil white supremacist ideology that took the lives of six million Jews and more than one million Jewish children will be eradicated from the earth, and people of all faith and no faith join together to create lasting peace on earth.