Jackie Headapohl Managing Editor
Israelis may be singled out from U.S. program.
The Islamic Center of America (ICA) in Dearborn is considering a ban on Israeli military officers from visiting the mosque.
The decision comes after the mosque was criticized by its congregants for allowing an Israeli military officer to participate in a program of the National Defense University through the U.S. State Department on April 14.
A delegation of 67 top-ranking student officers had come to the ICA to learn about Islam in America. The ICA has been participating in the program for 10 years.
Some members of the congregation, one of the largest Shia mosques in the country with more than 1,200 members, were angry when they learned an Israeli officer was among the delegates.
Ned Fawaz, an honorary board member and longtime leader of the mosque, told the Detroit Free Press, “Some people complained that with the situation in Palestine, Gaza and Syria, the mosque should not have an Israeli officer in the group visiting.”
Trustees addressed the incident in a May 5 letter to the congregation that was posted to Facebook. “We addressed the group as a whole … without distinction of nationality and/or political background,” it read.
Congregants were not appeased. There was a protest at the mosque May 11, where members distributed fliers stating, “Did you know Israeli military officers were welcomed at the Islamic Center of America?”
Another letter from the trustees, posted to Facebook the following day, had a different tone and message. “We were unaware that one Israeli officer had been part of the delegation … the Center never had or will have any intention of honoring such an officer. We understand and support the concerns raised by members of the community to such a visit.”
The letter goes on to say, “Our Board of Trustees and administration will take the necessary measures to ensure that no Israeli military personnel will be received at the ICA in the future, as we consider our interfaith outreach program.” Mosque leaders later told the Free Press that the ICA Board of Trustees would make the final decision on whether Israeli soldiers would be allowed to visit in the future.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, when asked if it would maintin its relationship with ICA if it chose to ban Israeli military from the program, said, “We decline to comment on hypothetical questions.”
David Kurzmann, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council-AJC, an organization charged with representing the Metropolitan Detroit Jewish community and establishing collaborative relationships with other ethnic, racial and religious groups, says that to his knowledge, the JCRC has never had a relationship with the leadership of the ICA.
He said that, at the very least, its decision to ban future visits from the Israeli military is “a terribly anti-Israel gesture. If the Israeli military is the only one being banned, it’s no different than the double standard Israel faces elsewhere on the world stage, such as at the United Nations.
“By some measures,” he added. “If you treat the Jewish state differently, that’s a form of anti-Semitism.”
Kurzmann said it was unlikely that the JCRC-AJC would be “the ambassador leading the conversation about this issue because we don’t have a relationship with any of the mosque’s leaders.
“However,” he added, “we don’t shy away from difficult conversations, and we raise concerns when we see them.”