French Muslim leaders all refused to sign on to a joint declaration with their Jewish counterparts condemning anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred, according to the British activist behind the interfaith campaign, which ran successfully in the United Kingdom.
Fiyaz Mughal, of the Muslims Against Anti-Semitism initiative, last month sought to replicate in France a successful public interfaith campaign that was undertaken in the United Kingdom in May, which saw full-page newspaper advertisements signed by more than a dozen UK Muslim leaders placed in major British dailies — including the Telegraph and Metro — condemning anti-Semitism.
Mughaz said he had found “a receptive base within some Muslims in the UK and care and empathy for Jewish brothers and sisters when we ran the campaign in the UK.”
British Jewish leaders, led by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, were subsequently invited to an iftar festive interfaith meal with their Muslim counterparts.
“The feeling within some sections of Muslim communities in the UK is distinctly different and far more positive to Jewish communities, here in the UK, than in France,” added Mughaz, the founder and director of Faith Matters, a Muslim anti-extremism group.
Incredible solidarity – a full page ad by Muslim sisters & brothers in today's @Telegraph. Thank you. Together we will defeat the twin evils of antisemitism & anti-Muslim hate. @FaithMattersUK @TellMamaUK @ayeshahazarika @paulsarmstrong @MakChishtyQPM @hennaraiB @Voice_of_Salam pic.twitter.com/W5PJLtHngK
— Board of Deputies of British Jews (@BoardofDeputies) May 17, 2018
When he fielded the draft declaration to French leaders, however, the response was far less encouraging.
“This was not the case in France, and what I found were deep divisions and a deep politicization on the most basic issue of standing for the ‘other.’ I had to change the text and redraft, and with very few responses back and with suggestions that Muslims would not just want to be associated with tackling anti-Semitism alone,” he said in a statement to The Times of Israel.
“I mean just for a moment think about this. It was impossible to get signatories together to stand squarely against anti-Semitism, which is the oldest historic hatred,” said Mughaz.
No French Muslim leaders were ultimately willing to sign the pledge, which called for mounting a “challenge” against hatred of both Jews and Muslims, spoke in defense of European values, and ended in a call of solidarity between the two faith communities.
Several prominent French Muslim leaders and organizations, contacted by The Times of Israel, did not respond by the time of publication.
Mughaz, meanwhile, was holding out hope they would change their minds.
“I am hoping that my fellow co-religionists in France can step forward, as many I truly believe want to do, to stand in solidarity with Jewish communities at this turbulent time in Europe. Now is that time,” he said.
His campaign came months after a French manifesto against anti-Semitism, signed by 300 dignitaries and stars, drew fury from the local Muslim community over a call to remove verses of the Quran calling for the “murder and punishment of Jews, Christians, and disbelievers” on the grounds that they are “obsolete.”
Hitting back, French Muslim leaders had said the letter unfairly placed Islam on trial.
The signatories — including ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and former prime minister Manuel Valls — had condemned what they called a “quiet ethnic purging,” driven by rising Islamist radicalism, particularly in working-class neighborhoods, and accused the media of remaining silent on the issue.
“In our recent history, 11 Jews have been assassinated — and some tortured — by radical Islamists because they were Jewish,” the declaration said.
The murders referenced reach as back to 2006 and include the 2012 deadly shooting of three schoolchildren and a teacher at a Jewish school by Islamist gunman Mohammed Merah in the southwestern city of Toulouse.
Three years later, an associate of the two brothers who massacred a group of cartoonists at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo killed four Jewish men in a hostage-taking at the kosher Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris.
In April 2017, an Orthodox Jewish woman in her sixties was thrown out of the window of her Paris flat by a neighbor shouting “Allahu Akhbar” (God is greatest).
The latest attack to rock France took place in March when two perpetrators stabbed 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll 11 times before setting her body on fire, in a crime investigated as anti-Semitic.
Officially, the number of anti-Semitic crimes fell in France in 2017 for a third year running, according to the interior ministry, down seven percent.
But Jews are the target of about a third of France’s recorded hate crimes despite making up only about 0.7 percent of the population.
The half-a-million-plus Jewish community is the largest in Europe but has been hit by a wave of emigration to Israel in the past two decades, partly due to anti-Semitism in immigrant neighborhoods.
AFP contributed to this report.