Muslims and Jews must focus on facing the common threat of white supremacy

Last month, my dear friend Amy texted me pictures taken from the stalls in the bathroom where her daughter is a high school student in the Midwest. One picture had a swastika, the lower left corner said, “Kill” while the upper right corner read, “Jews.” “Kill Jews” was scrawled on other parts of the stall as well. Her daughter is one of a handful of Jews in a school of 1500.

The statements scrawled on the stall of the high school articulated a clear threat to the physical safety of Jewish students and yet there was a part of Amy that understandably felt numb, exhausted. With a constant stream of hate, the burden is left on the disenfranchised to navigate which form of discrimination rises to level where combatting it is a survival-based necessity and which to ignore or accept as the collateral damage of being a minority.

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A few short months before this incident, eleven members of the Tree of Life Congregation were massacred in cold blood, targeted for their Jewish identity. According to FBI data released in November of last year, hate crimes against Jews increased thirty-seven percent between 2016 and 2017.

Anti-Semitism, like Islamophobia, is undoubtedly on the rise. Now more than ever, it is essential that Jews and Muslims recognize one another as natural allies against the common threat of white supremacy and continue to cultivate an alliance rooted in social justice, dignity and recognition.

This is already happening. For example, crowdfunding campaign by the Muslim American community to support the Tree of Life Congregation raised nearly $250,000. In 2017, a similar campaign raised over $150,000 to help with cleanup after a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis had been vandalized.  After a mosque burned down in Texas, a neighboring synagogue offered their keys for Muslims to continue their worship services.

This is a critical time for our communities and we cannot afford division.

For the first time in our nation’s history, two Muslim Congresswomen were elected to serve in the House of Representatives. Unsurprisingly, they became immediate targets of Islamophobic attacks and criticisms of being anti-Semitic for not supporting a bill which effectively penalizes businesses and individual contractors engaged in the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement. The ACLU has filed lawsuits for violations of the First Amendment for similar laws in states around the country. Yet, it has not been accused of anti-Semitism.

The critiques are unrelenting. Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTrump seeks to expand electoral map with New Mexico rally Omar says she hopes Netanyahu not reelected Sunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate MORE’s (D-Minn.( flippant tweet pointing out AIPAC’s effectiveness in lobbying for the state of Israel stemmed from its ability to raise money for candidates is being used to manufacture a controversy, pitting a black refugee Muslim against the Jewish community writ large.

Despite Omar quickly issuing an apology for her poor choice of words, President Trump criticized her, claiming she should be “ashamed of herself” that the apology was inadequate and then called for her resignation. The irony is striking. Even after the murder of Heather Heyer by a white supremacist at the Unite the Right rally, Trump maintained there were “very fine people on both sides.” There was only one side chanting, “Jews will not replace us."

The fact is the greatest threat to both Jews and Muslims is white supremacy, not a condemnation of either the state of Israel or lobbying efforts on behalf of Israel.

The rapid rise of white nationalism  is alarming. The FBI and DHS reported that white supremacist groups were responsible for more attacks than any other domestic extremist group in the last 16 years and were likely to carry out even more attacks in the following years.

Congressional leadership must develop robust policies confronting the real threats to our country, the ones that are home-grown and growing.
Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia both exist and unfortunately, minority communities are not immune to demonizing other minority communities and we must aggressively confront racism where it appears within our own communities. Nonetheless, it is critical to distinguish between actual threats to our communities and manufactured ones that are not designed to serve our own best interests.

In a friendship spanning almost two decades, Amy and I have had the opportunity to have heartfelt and heart-wrenching conversations, binding us even more closely though we now live in two different states. We’ve served on interfaith panels and think tanks together, we’ve marched as a collective whole at the historic 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C. together. I see her not only as a close friend, but an ally to my community and I hope to be for her too.

The strength of our communities lies in our unity and the diversity of the nation depends on it.

Huma Yasin is an attorney, author of the forthcoming book, "Conspiracy: The True Story of the Fort Dix Five" and co-founder of Facing Abuse in Community Environments. She also serves on the board of CAIR-DFW and  is a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.