Friendship Across Difference

Friendship Across Difference

A Conversation with Yossi Klein Halevi and Parvez Ahmed

March 24, 2019

Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and leads the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI). @YKleinHalevi

Dr. Parvez Ahmed is an American Muslim, born in Pakistan. He is a Professor of Finance at the University of North Florida.

Megan Clark Torrey was the moderator. She is Chief Executive Officer of the World Affairs Council of Connecticut.

The Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI) was launched in summer 2013 to build relationships of understanding, respect, and trust between North American Muslim and Jewish communities.


We all want a virtuous life, and security and safety.

Many issues are common to each other.

One stumbling block is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict - profoundly affects the way we look at the world.


Recognizes that Israel/Zionism has given Jews the gift of Jewish power, but this comes with responsibility.


His relationship with Jews is bipolar. He has friendships and support on many levels. But there are also deep differences. For instance, an anti-Muslim speaker was invited to speak at a Jewish conference. We need to deepen our relationship with conversations - use the right language as a bridge — what words are triggers?

Controversy on Rep. Ilan Omar


Muslims see a Somali refugee in Congress who is being attacked by a powerful Jewish community. Unfairly singled out - not only one making anti-Semitic remarks, and others are not being called out for it.

Yet he also sees her comments as triggering. In the end, they did not work. Her goal of defending Palestinians was not reached.

She needs to be a more effective legislator, not a communicator.

Israeli Jews vs American Jews


He worries that each side feels justification, betrayed by the other side

Iran deal: overwhelmingly approved by Israeli Jews, but not American Jews. Halevi saw the Iran deal as a great threat to Israel.

Now there is an absence of trust - Israeli Jews can’t trust American Jews.

The current administration has effectively declared war on the post World War II liberal order, which helped the American Jewish community flower. The President is a threat to this order, and he is just one player. Israeli government now embraces this man who has threatened American Jewry.

What is long term viability of American Jews and Israeli Jews relationship? Halevi sees it as fluid and is hopeful for future repair.


The disintegration of a liberal global order is a threat to peace.

Yet — It should not take a tragedy to bring us together.

There is deep skepticism among Jews and Muslims. What is tearing us apart is fears about each other.

eg ongoing tension between Palestine and Israel; Muslim rejection of Israel state’s legitimacy



Some have made BDS illegal. This is a non-violent peace movement. It is a freedom of expression.

YET! He thinks BDS is ineffective. It does not advance the conversation, in fact it prevents the conversation, that MLI tries to promote.

Also, it singles out Israel. This is not the only occupation impacting the Muslim world. What about China? BDS plays into the fears of anti-Semitics.

What did they learn from MLI?


Important to hear another narrative and the deep pain Muslims feel about occupation


Stop seeing “The Other”. Emotionally feel pain of the other. Relate as human beings.

What can American Jews do to better understand American Muslims?


American Muslims are very successful community. They are not the stereotypes

They, like Jews, are culturally American. We need to recognize this.


Jewish leaders have commonalities with Muslim leaders. We have to identify language that can be triggering to the other side.

How do they each keep trying?

Seek out hard audiences and have conversations with them.

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