UK

Muslims And Jews Issue Unprecedented Joint Call For Peace In Middle East, And In Britain

28/08/2014 09:59 BST | Updated 28/08/2014 10:59 BST

Britain's most senior Jewish and Muslim representatives have issued an unprecedented joint call for peace in the Middle East and harmony amongst the UK's religious communities.

The statement itself, issued by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), did not come together in entirely harmonious circumstances. It condemns "the targeting of civilians" which the BoD said was an explicit condemnation of Hamas by the Muslim body, though a spokesman for the MCB said it was aimed at condemning both sides. The BoD said it was not intending to condemn the Israel Defence Forces, which it believes do not target civilians.

Israel and Hamas have agreed an indefinite ceasefire after almost two months of IDF airstrikes on Gaza and Hamas rockets into southern Israel. The onslaught has led to the deaths of more than 2,000 Palestinians, who the United Nations claims have mostly been civilians. Soldiers made up most of the casualties on the Israeli side, where 70 lives were lost.

gaza

A Palestinian family walks past the collapsed remains of a building that was destroyed in fighting between Hamas militants and Israel

Prior to recent years, there had been no love lost between the MCB and the BoD. In 2009, the Board cut ties with the MCB over a controversy when a senior executive of the MCB signed the so-called "Istanbul Declaration" which condemned Israel’s “malicious Jewish Zionist war over Gaza”, and which appeared to condone attacks on both the Israeli and British armies.

The Board advised the then Labour government not to continue relations with the MCB until they represented “a greater range of views than those of the Islamists.”

In the statement on Thursday, the groups acknowledged their deeply held views about the conflict in Israel and Palestine and that communities would "disagree about the origins, current reasons and solutions to end the conflict."

"But there are also points of agreement," the statement goes on. "The death of every civilian is a tragedy, and every effort should be taken to minimise such losses.

"The targeting of civilians is completely unacceptable and against our religious traditions. We pray for a speedy end to the current conflict and for a lasting peace for all."

Amid a sharp rise in anti-semitic attacks, and the furious rhetoric that has coloured the debate on both sides, the BoD and the MCB said they would "continue to work hard for good community relations in the UK."

"We must not import conflict. We must export peace instead. Whilst everyone has the right to voice their political opinion, be that in a rally or on social media, we must be mindful of how we convey our protest.

"There can be no excuse for racism, violence, or other forms of intimidation, when expressing views in the media, on the streets, outside shops or online. We condemn any expression of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or any form of racism.

The statement ended with a plea for Muslim and Jewish communities to "get to know one another".

"We need constructive dialogue to limit our disagreements and identify the widest possible range of areas for cooperation. There are more issues that unite us than divide us," it concluded.