Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Under Muslim-Jewish Hashtag, Sharing a Message of People Over Politics

July 31, 2014 4:50 am 3 comments

Syrian Dania Darwish (left) and Israeli Abraham Gutman, pictured, started the hashtag campaign #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies. Photo: Provided photo.

#JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies. To some, it’s just a hashtag. To others, it’s a way of life.

When Israeli Abraham Gutman and Syrian Dania Darwish, students at Hunter College in New York City, recently posted a photo of themselves holding signs with the above hashtag on Facebook, they didn’t know it would create a worldwide sensation.

“We are not politicians, not PR people,” Gutman told JNS.org. “We are students. We know a hashtag won’t solve this long conflict, but we wanted to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.”

But since the hashtag campaign started, dozens of others have posted similar photos in an attempt to demonstrate that people of different backgrounds, religions, and countries of origin can be friends, lovers and even spouses.

“This is about people,” said Gutman.

People such as Sara and Maggie Amin, sisters born to an Egyptian Muslim father and a Jewish American mother. Their parents have been married for 39 years.

Growing up, the Amins said they didn’t think anything of their mixed origins. Mom cooked matzo ball soup and grandma would come in the summer to make homemade falafel and other Middle Eastern cuisine. In Rockville, Md., they attended a school that catered to children of foreign diplomats—her parents were not diplomats—and hence had friends of every religion and culture.

“We had one friend whose father was Hungarian and mom Filipino. Another friend was Greek,” recalled Sara Amin, her sister noting that at one point there were 92 nations represented at her high school.

But when Maggie Amin left for Pennsylvania State University at 18, she encountered for the first time people who were “taken aback” by her background.

“I used to call my parents crying because I was so angry,” said Maggie Amin, recalling the hateful taunts and questions her peers imparted. She said students would say, “How is that possible?” or “Do your parents fight all the time?” or “Is your dad a terrorist—how does your mom deal with that?”

Maggie Amin said she would stand up for her parents, telling peers that her parents not only didn’t fight, but were deeply in love. If they discussed the Middle East at the dinner table, they’d usually agree—and their debates were no different than any other married couples.

The girls used to travel to Egypt regularly when they were younger, though in recent years and since the passing of their grandmother, the family has been more hesitant. Sara Amin recalled that the visits required more-than-average planning. Their parents had to bring their marriage license, for example, to prove they were a couple, and the group would be stopped at border control for questioning. Authorities could not understand what this Egyptian man was doing with three “white women.”

“It was frustrating sometimes,” said Maggie Amin, “but nothing we couldn’t overcome.”

Salem Almaani, 26, of Jordan, and Matt Martin, 32, of California, live together in Brooklyn, N.Y. The gay couple met through mutual friends two years ago and were among the many to post a photo with #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies.

Martin told JNS.org that he and his partner have often joked that they are “the representation of peace in the Middle East.”

The couple’s mixed background has never proved to be an obstacle. If anything, it has opened their eyes to a new reality. Martin, for example, was raised culturally Jewish and during college became a more active supporter of the state of Israel. Since meeting Almaani, he said, “I am not on one side or the other. I see both sides a lot clearer.”

Almaani said his decision to date Martin was met with some resistance by his parents. His mother had a hard time accepting his homosexuality and his choice to date someone of a different background. His father, he said, “is pretty conservative and he has had to alter some of his perspectives.”

“A product of the media mainly, it seems you always have to marginalize people, paint someone as the bad guy or good guy,” said Martin. “But there are two sides and people from different backgrounds can get along, work together, be as successful and happy as other friends or couples that are from the same background.”

Dr. Sahar Eftekhar, an Iranian Muslim dating Jewish American Zachary Wettenstein, expressed similar sentiments. She said the couple celebrates each other’s holidays and sees each other’s rich culture as a benefit, not an obstacle.

When Eftekhar and Wettenstein posted a photo, however, hateful comments came in from every direction. Eftekhar said Muslims from Arab countries accused her of overstepping her bounds, being that she is of Persian and not technically Arab origin. Others called them names, and made accusations she is confident they only felt comfortable expressing from behind their computer screens, rather than face to face.

These comments, she said, give her posting—and the #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies hashtag—greater importance.

“Sometimes it is hard for others to put themselves in someone else’s shoes or to see the world through someone else’s eyes,” said Eftekhar. “I think this is a very dangerous thing. Underneath these stereotypes, which we have placed on each other, we are the same. We are all human. … I hope our generation will be more open-minded and spread this message.”

Sara Amin hopes so, too. She said watching her Facebook feed—she works at a Jewish federation—has been “interesting.” Her Jewish friends are reporting one side of the story, her Palestinian and Egyptian friends another.

“It’s like a seesaw. You keep getting yanked back and forth. You feel everyone wants what is best for themselves. But what about what’s best for the whole?” she said, adding, “I think the hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies is saying we have a choice of how to live our lives, how to treat others, whether to embrace others or not.”

Gutman, the hashtag’s co-creator, stressed social media’s upside and downside.

“Social media is a great tool for social good,” he said. “But it also makes us use harsh words, get in arguments—quick, fast, short, and bold. That’s not productive. #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies says, ‘Let’s be respectful and have a conversation.'”

Maayan Jaffe is a freelance writer in Overland Park, Kan. Reach her at maayanjaffe@icloud.com or follow her on Twitter, @MaayanJaffe.

3 Comments

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    JNS.org – Alan Gross used to be nothing more to me than a tragic headline. When I started my position at this news service in July 2011, Gross had been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for what that country called “crimes against the state.” Gross, a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development, went to Cuba to help the Jewish community there access the Internet. After his arrest, he received a trial he describes as a “B movie,” […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    JNS.org – When I saw the recent Academy Award-winning film “The Big Short,” I was struck by the sheer genius of the financiers who devised the schemes and packaged the loans for resale, but it left me with unanswered questions about how the properties these loans represented were moved. “The Big Short” was largely about paper transactions, big money, and wealthy investors, and it mildly touched on the way the actual end-users — the home buyers and brokers — played into this […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Why do we think so negatively about psychiatrists that we still insult them by calling them shrinks? Some medics might be quacks, but we don’t generally refer to them as witches! Shrinks; The Untold Story of Psychiatry, by Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, is a sobering account of how psychiatry has swung from a marginal, unscientific mixture of weird theories into one of the most common and pervasive forms of treatment of what are commonly called “disorders of the mind.” Is it […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion At Forbes Summit in Israel, Entrepreneurship Is a ‘Common Language’

    At Forbes Summit in Israel, Entrepreneurship Is a ‘Common Language’

    JNS.org – Nine months ago, Seth Cohen, director of network initiatives for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Randall Lane, editor of Forbes Magazine, were schmoozing about the “vibrancy of Tel Aviv and soul of Jerusalem,” as Lane put it. They dreamed about how they could bring young and innovative millennials to the so-called “start-up nation.” From April 3-7, Forbes turned that dream into a reality. Israel played host to the first-ever Forbes Under 30 EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) […]

    Read more →