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Islamic leader urges Jews be wary of fundamentalists

CAMBRIDGE -- The president of the Islamic Society of North America warned last night that American Jews who ally with right-wing Christians to oppose Muslim organizations are pursuing a high-risk strategy that could backfire.

Speaking at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, at an event sponsored by the school and four Muslim student organizations, Ingrid Mattson, a Canadian-born convert from Roman Catholicism who became the Islamic society's first woman president last year, said that many American Jews have an existential fear that Muslims are anti-Israel.

Such fear leads Jews to ally with Christian fundamentalists who are supportive of Israel and critical of Islam, she said.

"Right-wing Christians are very risky allies for American Jews," Mattson said, "because they [the Christians] are really anti-Semitic. They do not like Jews" and enter into the alliance on the basis of fundamentalist beliefs that it would be desirable for all Jews to return to Israel. She suggested that fundamentalist Christians might turn against Jews or that there could be backlash from ordinary Americans against Jewish and fundamentalist Christian supporters of Israel.

Mattson, who is professor of Islamic studies and director of Islamic chaplaincy at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, said that constructive interfaith exchanges between Muslims and Jews and between Muslims and Christians are much more numerous than is generally appreciated.

Some Muslims and Jews from the Boston area have visited and talked with faculty at the seminary about how to resolve the bitter standoff between a group of Jewish organizations and the Islamic Society of Boston over the local Islamic society's efforts to build a mosque in Roxbury, she said.