I agree with all that has been said by rabbis Stern, Hirschfield, and Waxman about agreeing to enter into dialogue with those with whom we disagree while being careful not to be duped or give up articulating our own concerns just to get to or stay at the table.
There are some other things we can do, particularly on the local level. I recently attended a Jewish-Muslim interfaith dialogue which focused on the challenges of raising Jewish and Muslim children in a majority culture which is different from our own. We shared real and personal concerns and strategies, as well as identified potential areas in which we might be able to work together. Good feelings and a sense of hopefulness pervaded the evening. Last year my congregation hosted a Roads to You Tour concert by Jordanian musician Zade. He has brought together Jewish, Christian and Muslim musicians who not only perform together but dedicate themselves to talking about tolerance in their own ethnic communities. They work with students in communities across the country and hopefully offer them a model for how people of different faiths can indeed work together. Zade’s work here is so critical because, if we can’t build a commitment to tolerance among the Muslim community in the United States, chances are we won’t be able to do so anywhere. Some of my congregants were wary of working with Zade, so as not to give the impression that most Muslims would be as willing to work together with the Jewish community. They missed the point: that we need to support such courageous Muslims who are bringing forth the message of cooperation.
There are limits to such an approach, of course. The Second Intifada deflated the Israeli peace movement in such a visceral way because well-meaning Jewish peace activitists (myself among them) had thought that dialogue and cooperative projects with Palestinians would build mutual trust and ultimately result in the means to build a cooperative peace. The problem was not with what we said together but what was being said behind our backs and the willingness of those in the peace party to ignore it. This is probably what Rabbi Stern was referring to in his warning that we not allow ourselves to be duped.
I think we have learned something in the last few years. We have to talk together, but we also must be vigilant and willing to confront–in a respectful and calm manner–contradictions and inappropriate contentions whenever presented. In this way we can start rebuilding the steps towards interfaith dialogue that have worked elsewhere: first deal with what you have in common to build a recognition of shared humanity, then begin to deal with what is unique to each group in order to begin to appreciate our differences, and only finally deal with where we actually differ, to find some ways of showing respect for each side.