Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and Imam Shamsi Ali of the Jamaica Muslim Center met with Muslim students at College of New York’s Lehman College and Jewish students from Baruch College, John Jay College and Pace University, according to CBS News.
The two also appeared together on an interfaith panel on Friday.
Since the start of the war, there have been reports of increased antisemitism and Islamophobia on college campuses.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations issued a statement encouraging universities to address a “sudden surge in reports of abusive and discriminatory behavior and express support for students of all backgrounds, including Muslims and Palestinians.”
The Anti-Defamation League also issued a statement calling for “universities to distance university leadership from dangerous, antisemitism rhetoric” and urged for “campus leadership to proactively use all tools at their disposal to ensure that there is a safe and welcoming campus climate for all.”
In this climate where Jewish and Muslim students are feeling unsafe on campus, Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali have acted to build bridges on campuses.
“We feel as religious leaders in our communities, both communities, Jewish and Muslims, we feel a sense of responsibility to bring together students,” Imam Ali told CBS News.
“In the midst of this raging war in Gaza, we cherish our freedoms to protest and demonstrate, but we cannot cross the line when it comes to violence, when it comes to intimidation, when it comes to harassment, when it comes to confrontation,” Rabbi Schneier said to CBS News.
Both faith leaders said they will continue their efforts to promote peace and understanding on college campuses. “Compassion, advancing human dignity, respect for justice, that’s what we want,” Imam Ali told CBS News.
On Friday, MSNBC’s “11th Hour” show hosted Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali, so that the pair could talk about how they’ve been trying to build bridges on college campuses.
Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali met when a news network hosted a segment after the death of Pope John Paul II. Both of them were on the panel 20 years and this meeting led to a strong friendship between the two that has carried over into their work to build better relationships between Jews and Muslims, Rabbi Schneier said.
One of the ways the rabbi and imam have been able to build these bridges of friendship and understanding is recognizing their similarities are finding common ground.
“One of the ways to come together is realizing that we, Jews and Muslims, do not only have a common faith, but, in fact, we have a common fate, destiny,” Imam Ali explained.
“... Islamophobia and antisemitism are just two sides of the same coin,” Imam Ali continued.
Their 20-year friendship and work together led them to gather students from New York City public colleges to talk about what they have been experiencing. Their initial visits to speak with a few students has turned into the pair being invited to go to every CUNY campus from one borough in the coming weeks, Rabbi Schneier said.
Rabbi Schneier said that their message on college campuses has been simple: “We can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.”
“We must challenge ourselves to build these relationships, Jewish and Muslim, because we are really on the same boat. We have even more commonalities. As the rabbi said, we can disagree, we can agree to disagree without being disagreeable,” Imam Ali said.
As the rabbi and imam have talked to students on campus, Rabbi Schneier said that he was heartened to hear Muslim students express that they did not support Hamas. “Hamas doesn’t represent the aspirations of the Palestinian people,” he said.
Rabbi Schneier said during this time, “we must turn to great American Muslim leaders” who can help protect the Jewish people.
“That is our commitment,” Imam Ali said. “For me, antisemitism is my fight. As he (Rabbi Schneier) has taken Islamophobia as his fight. We advance our common humanity. That in spite of the existing differences we have, we have even more in common.”
“At the end of the day, we are all human beings,” Ali continued. “We deserve dignity. We deserve respect. We deserve peace — reconciliation.”
Correction: A earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Rabbi Schneier.