October 17, 2013
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has hired a Jewish filmmaker and interfaith activist as executive director of the advocacy 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, explaining that he felt people had a responsibility to confront bigotry. “When one group of Americans is attacked, it lessens the quality of democracy for all of us.”
Jacob Bender is set to be the voice of Philadelphia-area Muslims, to take on discrimination they encounter in workplace and in the public sphere, and to fight expressions of hate.
The Council on American Islamic Relations’ Philadelphia branch announced the appointment of Bender as its executive director October 15. Bender is the first Jew, and the first non-Muslim, to serve as director of a CAIR branch.
“The needs of the Muslim community are really the needs of any minority community in the United States,” said Iftekhar Hussein, chairman of CAIR-Philadelphia’s board of directors. “Jacob, being Jewish, understands that from his own background.”
An activist on Jewish-Muslim interfaith issues who has been involved in the past on the progressive end of Middle East peace advocacy, Bender will face two entirely different sets of expectations in his new position
He will meet a local Muslim community expecting a non-Muslim to represent its needs just as well as would a member of their own faith.
He will also face a national Jewish leadership that has all but deemed CAIR off-limits for any dialogue.