NEW YORK (JTA) — The Council on American-Islamic Relations hired a Jewish filmmaker and interfaith activist as executive director of the group’s Philadelphia office.
Jacob Bender is the highest ranking non-Muslim in the Washington-based organization and the first to lead one of its chapters.
“Many Muslims face daily suspicion, not unlike other immigrant groups throughout history,” said Bender. “When one group of Americans is attacked, it lessens the quality of democracy for all of us.”
At CAIR, Bender said his work would focus on fighting civil rights violations, discrimination and hate speech, and promoting relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.
CAIR is the largest Muslim advocacy organization in the United States and is considered controversial and off-limits by many Jewish groups. In a 2006 report, the Anti-Defamation League accused CAIR of associating with people who have supported terrorism and of having extremist views on Israel.
When former Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010, a number of Jewish voters made an issue of Sestak’s decision to address the local CAIR chapter at a 2007 event.
At the same time, CAIR’s local lay leader, Iftikar Hussein, has spoken at several area synagogues about Islam.
Hussein told the Forward that “the needs of the Muslim community are really the needs of any minority community in the United States. Jacob, being Jewish, understands that from his own background.”
Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director, said that hiring a Jewish director “does not indicate, necessarily, a change of attitude and activity at CAIR.”
“Unfortunately,” he added, “there are Jews who are anti-Jewish and anti-Israel. But we will wait and see.”