Conference of Presidents honors Muslims who protected Jews during Holocaust

Speakers at New York event included the secretary general of Saudi-based Muslim World League and co-founder of Morocco Muslim student movement

Muslim World League Secretary General, Mohammad Al-Issa speaks on April 6, 2018. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Muslim World League Secretary General, Mohammad Al-Issa speaks on April 6, 2018. (Screen capture/YouTube)

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations held an event in New York this week honoring and commemorating Muslims who protected Jews during the Holocaust.

The event’s featured guest at the Museum of Jewish Heritage was Mohammad al-Issa, the secretary general of the Saudi-based Muslim World League. He discussed the state of Jewish-Muslim relations and highlighted the importance of Holocaust education in the Muslim world.

“We must overcome the hurdle that has been put in our way, trying to prevent us from helping others. We must follow the seeds that our forefathers have sown and try to serve peace the best way possible,” the Haaretz daily quoted al-Issa as saying at the event on Thursday, held in cooperation with the American Sephardi Federation.

In January, al-Issa wrote a letter to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in which he publicly acknowledged the tragedy of the Holocaust, “an incident that shook humanity to the core, and created an event whose horrors could not be denied or underrated by any fair-minded or peace-loving person.”

He also asserted that “true Islam” opposed the Nazi genocide.

Stephen M. Greenberg, chairman and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman/CEO of the Conference of Presidents, an umbrella organization that represents over 50 US Jewish groups, said in a statement: “In the presence of many leaders of the American Jewish and Muslim communities, Dr. Al-Issa joined us as we commemorated and paid tribute to the immensely important, but too little known, acts of human decency and kindness of people in many majority Muslim countries during the Holocaust that enabled Jews to survive the horrors of the Nazi drive to exterminate them.”

“Dr. Al-Issa continues to demonstrate his commitment to engaging with the Jewish community in meaningful dialog to help bring Muslims and Jews closer together in an atmosphere of mutual dignity and respect. The Conference of Presidents looks forward to an ongoing relationship with him in this crucial endeavor,” they added.

The Conference of Presidents also honored Laziza Dalil, the vice president and a co-founder of the Moroccan-based Muslim student movement, Association Mimouna, which promotes Jewish heritage in Morocco and Muslim-Jewish dialogue.

Dalil shared a personal story from her years as a student in Paris when she was harassed by an apparently anti-Semitic woman who thought she was a Jew. Dalil recounted in a 2016 essay that the older woman had caught her eye and said to her: “Paris was much cleaner when the Germans were here.”

The Association Mimouna co-founder told the crowd of her group’s devotion to preserving Jewish heritage in Morocco and also announced the publication of the first Holocaust education curriculum for students in her country.

The event also featured a special presentation honoring countries that “hosted, protected, and absorbed Jewish refugees during the Holocaust,” including Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Morocco. Ambassadors to the US of these countries were at the event and each “spoke of the long history of Jewish communities in their countries and the example they represent for Muslim-Jewish relations,” the Conference of Presidents said.

The group said it was “privileged to show our appreciation and respect to all whose courage and moral fortitude to do what was right to save lives, to shelter and provide safe harbor for Jews in their countries and those fleeing persecution and annihilation.”

“This message is so necessary today when we see anti-Semitism on the rise, racism manifest and intergroup tensions created and exploited by radical and extremist elements. We hope this historic evening will only be the beginning to forging better ties with those who share our values, aspirations, and stand for justice,” it went on.

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