/ Muslim Leadership Initiative

Who Speaks for MLI?

What happens when the moral and ideological gaps between the Institute and participants come to the surface because of political realities? How do participants navigate the tensions that arise as a result?

The Shalom Hartman Institute houses dozens of scholars, researchers, faculty members and facilitators who both participate in collaborative research efforts as well as produce their own autonomous intellectual outputs. The Institute has no formal editorial policy for the ideas that emerge from our research center or in the form of written pieces or courses taught by our scholars and has no ideological or political red lines or litmus tests through which we police our boundaries. We encourage our scholars to use their public voice to promote and debate ideas and we actively discourage rhetoric that involves personal attack or the demonization of the other. We have some core ideological commitments, and many of our scholars are committed to these principles and want to produce ideas within these frameworks; but of course some of our scholars are committed to some and not others, and we invite them to be meaningful contributors in the arenas where they can express themselves with sincerity and integrity. There is no spokesperson for SHI, we do not take partisan political positions on behalf of the Institute, and no scholar, fellow, or staff member speaks for the Institute on matters of ideology.

Our programs invite leaders and change-agents into this process of study in the hope that they will take what they learn at Hartman and use this knowledge in advancing quality leadership that is informed by ideas and ideals. We want the leaders who graduate from our programs to use their platforms in the ways that are appropriate to their skills and capacities. Sometimes we offer workshops for our program participants to sharpen their competencies in the arenas of leadership – op-ed trainings, sermon-writing workshops, curriculum-design conversations – but we do not hold alumni of our programs accountable to particular or uniform programmatic, performative, or ideological deliverables. Our theory of social change imagines that the world changes more slowly, and the change we seek for the world is not encompassed in the quick change of political loyalties or the advancement of a particular political program.

MLI aims to leverage its educational program to build stronger relationships between North American Jews and North American Muslims. For that reason, the Muslim leadership of MLI recruits individuals with significant leadership platforms and/or leadership potential, as expressed in a variety of fields. MLI leaders also aim to recruit for ethnic, religious, political and geographic diversity, as well as for curiosity and capacity to engage in a rigorous academic program. The Institute has been only passively involved in the recruitment of participants, which was led by the Muslim staff and leadership of the program; and needless to say, the Institute set no litmus tests or other ideological or political demarcations around the recruitment process.

At no point did SHI or MLI intentionally empower any alumni of the program as official or unofficial ambassadors of the program. Some MLI alumni are individuals with extraordinary reach and leadership platforms, and as a result that they are seen as representatives as MLI; this perception is false . The alumni community has been the site of vibrant debate about the public voice and representation of the program; from the Institute’s perspective, the fact that some alumni speak in louder voices than others is evidence simply of the diversity of the alumni community, and not an intentional effort to amplify some voices over others. Many alumni are involved in applying the lessons they learned from the MLI experience, and/or working to strengthen Muslim-Jewish relations, in ways that are much less publicly visible, but no less impactful.

At no point has SHI ever assumed it would speak on behalf of MLI alumni. MLI provided an opportunity for the ideas of SHI scholars to get a good airing in the classroom, and to be debated, accepted or rejected. Just as SHI never set an editorial policy, standards, red lines, or expectations on how alumni might emerge from the program and speak about either MLI or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a result, neither did we anticipate that anyone would assume that the opinions of an SHI scholar as expressed in public should reflect implied assent by MLI alumni. The pluralism inherent in both the faculty of the Institute as well as among our program participants testifies to the Institute’s commitment to open discourse and to being a place for deep engagement with ideas. To suggest that the Institute seeks to imprint its ideas on its participants is to misunderstand our core educational and social change methodology.

SHI fully expects that participants and alumni of the MLI program will continue to disagree with the majority of SHI faculty on core historical, political and moral issues regarding Israel-Palestine, and certainly with respect to Israeli policy. Our hope is that the program offers our participants a broader and deeper understanding of Israeli and Jewish perspectives on Israel, so that continuing disagreements are substantive rather than polemical, allowing us to pursue the engagement over our disagreements more effectively — and ensuring that Jewish-Muslim relationship-building does not become derailed by the failure to manage our differences more effectively.

We recognize that some participants may reach a ‘breaking point’ when they conclude that differences between us are too vast to navigate, or when they conclude that they no longer want to be exposed to the ideas raised by the MLI program. We regret when this happens, but we are grateful when these participants reach their conclusions as a result of an honest process, and when they recognize that they are not “complicit” or accountable for association with the Institute in spite of our differences.

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