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President Obama addresses supporters at his election night victory rally in Chicago on Nov. 7, 2012.
In addition to having similar dietary laws, customs and rituals, we found out on Nov. 6 that American Jews and American Muslims have another thing in common; each community gave 70 percent or more of its vote during Tuesday’s presidential election to President Obama.
According to two national exit polls, about 70 percent of American Jews supported President Obama over Republican candidate Mitt Romney. A poll conducted in the Muslim community in late October showed that 68 percent of American Muslims backed Obama.
What do these similar vote totals in support of President Obama say about our two communities? First, the results show that majorities of American Jews and American Muslims support President Obama’s vision of an inclusive society where people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds have a chance to succeed. Jews and Muslims alike embrace the vision the president has articulated that “we are all in this together” and that government—as well as religious communities–should be ready and willing to extend a helping hand to members of our society in desperate need.
Both Islam and Judaism contain the injunction: If you save one life, it is as though you have saved the entire world. It is a vision that resonates in the ethic of interdependence and mutual support that President Obama embodies.
It is the common moral imperative to repair the world, which Jews call tikkun olam and Muslims call islah, that has inspired Muslims and Jews in 16 cities across the United States, Canada and Britain to schedule joint Feeding the Hungry and Homeless Together events on Nov. 18 and on ensuing days. These programs are highlights of the Weekend of Twinning, an annual event created by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and held every November during which more than 250 Muslim and Jewish congregations and organizations hold joint events involving thousands of Jews and Muslims in 26 countries.
There is, however, a second reason for the overwhelming support for Obama among American Jews and Muslims; namely that both communities strongly reject the anti-Muslim rhetoric articulated by prominent Republicans during the past several years. For example, national Republican leaders shamelessly demagogued the bogus “Ground Zero mosque” controversy of 2010 and held congressional hearings in 2011 based on the false claim that 80 percent of American mosques support Islamic radicalism. This year some Republican congressional leaders also claimed the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the U.S. State Department, while Republican-controlled legislatures in states such as Oklahoma and Kansas passed wholly unnecessary and unconstitutional bans on sharia (Islamic) law.
Despite loud and well-funded efforts to enlist the Jewish community in the Islamophobia campaign of recent years, the majority of American Jews have emphatically rejected it. They have done so because they view demonizing adherents of another faith as contrary to basic Jewish moral values of tolerance and compassion and a violation of Biblical injunctions such as “welcome the stranger.” Also, retaining a searing historical memory of having endured centuries of anti-Semitism which culminated in the Holocaust, Jews feel in their kishkes (guts) that if another religious or ethnic group is attacked today, they themselves may be targeted tomorrow.
Over the past five years, the two of us have successfully brought together Muslims and Jews in North America and Europe as part of a long term effort to build a movement of Muslims and Jews committed to communication, reconciliation and cooperation. We are hopeful in the wake of President Obama’s electoral victory that, after some dark days, America’s celebration of racial, ethnic and religious diversity is reasserting itself. That is a development from which both of our communities can take heart and celebrate together.
Rabbi Marc Schneier, who is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, delivered a benediction at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Imam Shamsi Ali, a prominent Muslim scholar, is imam of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens. Schneier and Ali have coauthored a forthcoming book, “Sons of Abraham,” about their friendship and Muslim-Jewish coexistence.
More on faith and the election:
Mason: ‘Mormon Moment’ RIP
Elizabeth Tenety: God after 2012: How did election change religion and politics landscape?
David Gibson: What’s next for religious conservatives?
Figuring Faith: Faith in 2012 by the numbers
Otterson: What lies ahead for Mormons?
Thistlethwaite: Compassion in chief: Why Obama won
Berlinerblau: An open letter to conservatives