The Muslim World League, an organization emerging as a ubiquitous presence on the interfaith conference circuit, boasts close ties to the Saudi monarchy and produces a magazine that has published antisemitic screeds. That dual identity has put Jewish groups in a bind in deciding how to relate to the group and the widely attended, high-profile interfaith forums it is producing on behalf of the Saudi king, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. In September, Jewish groups abruptly withdrew their participation in one of those interfaith conferences after the league’s magazine published an article depicting the world media as under total control of the Jews. But now, in part at Israel’s apparent behest, one of the Jewish community’s primary umbrella groups for interfaith affairs plans to proceed with an unprecedented trialogue this December involving world Jewry, the Vatican and — representing Islam — the MWL. The dilemma reflects diverging interests of Israel and the U.S. Jewish community on the issue of ties with Muslim groups. While Jewish organizations focus on their Muslim counterpart’s actions and statements, the Israeli government has also been looking at the diplomatic benefits that can be reaped from tightening ties with a group closely affiliated with the Saudi leadership. “Israel is sometimes more sensitive to antisemitism and sometimes less sensitive,” said Michael Berenbaum, a Jewish scholar who has been among the leaders of interfaith dialogue. “There is a structural tension between Israel and the Diaspora Jews,” he said, a tension that at times leads to differences of approach toward relations with other religious groups.
A previous post discussed the article in question whose cover depicts a globe covered by a baseball cap with the Star of David symbol under the title: “Control of World Media.” As these posts noted, while the meeting was attended by representatives of major Jewish groups, the end of the conference was marred over a dispute about antisemitism.
Other previous posts discussed the interfaith meeting that was held in Madrid in July 2008 sponsored by Saudi King Abdullah and organized by the MWL. The Forward report goes on to detail the further reluctance of major U.S. Jewish organizations to attend a Saudi interfaith event in Geneva that began on September 30:
After Jewish activists protested the publication of the May MWL Journal article claiming Jewish control of the media, the MWL issued a clarification stating that it was not responsible for the article’s content since it was copied from another source. ADL National Director Abraham Foxman called this “a pathetic attempt to deflect responsibility.” Others agreed. For the first time, representatives of other major Jewish groups, including the World Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, joined the ADL in refusing to attend a two-day Saudi initiative gathering in Geneva that began on September 30. “In the first [Madrid] event you could argue that they are so new to this and were not adequately informed,” Rabbi David Rosen, director of inter-religious affairs at the AJC said. “But now they already know and still have problematic issues for us.” Rabbi Marc Schneier, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, cited other issues. One was the participation in the conference of William Baker, former head of the extreme right-wing Populist Party who has authored many antisemitic writings. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I looked at the schedule of the Geneva conference” and saw he would be speaking on a panel with Baker. “I’m very saddened and disappointed,” he said, “but there’s just so much I can take.”
The remainder of the Forward piece concerns a Catholic-Jewish-Muslim meeting planned for December in Seville, Spain, unrelated to King Abdullah’s interfaith initiative but where the MWL will be participating at the request of the Vatican.
The Muslim World League was established in 1962 as a means for the propagation of Saudi “Wahabbi” Islam. Muslim Brothers played an important role in its founding and, to date, the League has been strongly with the Brotherhood. The MWL, together with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), are Saudi organizations believed by U.S. government officials to have helped to spread Islamic extremism around the world as well as sponsoring terrorism in places such as Bosnia, Israel, and India.