Stanley Bergman, the Jewish CEO of Henry Schein, a leading supplier for medical and dental offices, and Farooq Kathwari, the Muslim CEO of furniture maker Ethan Allen, are national business leaders. Last year, they joined together to counteract hate speech and crimes toward Muslims and Jews in the U.S.
The two visited Detroit on Oct. 3 to talk about their newly created national Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council and met with Muslim, Jewish and other Detroit-area leaders during a town hall in Dearborn.
This was the council’s sixth face-to-face meeting since its founding last November.
Last year, Bergman and Kathwari agreed to lead the council, a national nonpartisan, public-private advocacy organization convened by the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America. Its mission is to advocate for religious tolerance and respect, and to publicly recognize the contributions of all religions.
Kathwari, originally from Kashmir, reported that the council has held successful meetings with representatives from the Department of Justice and Congress as well as Muslim, Jewish and other leaders. “It has been well-received across the country,” he said.
Council co-chair Bergman emigrated to the U.S. from South Africa, where his parents fled to escape Nazi Germany. “There are more hate crimes against Jews than other groups in the U.S., but the rate is increasing fastest for Muslims,” he said. “It is our job to make sure that people are not fearful.”
“Silence is not an option,” Kathwari commented.
The council is advocating for passage of the bipartisan “Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act of 2017” that would include religiously affiliated schools and community centers in the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996. This law makes it a federal crime to damage a house of worship.
Daniel Lemisch, acting U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Michigan, who is Jewish, described the increasing incidence of hate speech and discriminatory actions.
“Hate is becoming mainstream. Hate is broadcast with the speed of light. Our job is to make sure that laws are applied equally,” he explained.
Lemisch referred to two recent cases in which the federal government successfully sued local governments that were trying to thwart the construction of a mosque and Muslim school.
Alicia Chandler, president of Detroit’s Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC, spoke about the organization’s progress in building trust and connections with the local Muslim community. When the federal government issued its initial ban on immigration from Muslim countries, Jews supported the local Muslim community in its protest, she said. When bomb threats were called into the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield, she noted that a group of Muslim leaders took out a Jewish News ad in support of the Jewish community.
According to David Kurzmann, JCRC/AJC executive director, the national Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council visited Detroit because of its large Muslim community and the successful partnership efforts between local Muslim and Jewish organizations over several years.
Going forward, he said the council will work to engage additional communities, establish regional councils and highlight the contributions of Muslim and Jewish groups in American society. On the legislative front, the Council is seeking an additional legislator to sponsor the Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act of 2017.
Locally, the JCRC/AJC of Detroit will continue its expanding Mitzvah Day volunteer program with the Muslim community, according to Kurzmann.
In addition, the JCRC/AJC Shared Dialogue program in which two Wayne State University professors — one Muslim and one Jewish — jointly addressed audiences in three Detroit-area locations, is likely to be repeated early in 2018. Professors Howard Lupavitch and Saeed Khan discussed “A Shared Future: American Xenophobia — Anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia.”
Photo Credit: Andrea Stinson Oliver
For more about the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, visit muslimjewishadvocacy.org.