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Religious leaders sit out Bloomberg event

Some religious leaders attending Mayor Michael Bloomberg's interfaith breakfast Friday expressed solidarity with Muslims upset about police department surveillance in their communities, while more than a dozen leaders boycotted the yearly gathering that is meant to be a showcase of tolerance.

"I wouldn't like it to happen to my house of worship," Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin said at the breakfast of the spying program first revealed by the Associated Press. "I would be hurt if it was my faith group that was in this situation or predicament. I see it as the mayor choosing one faith-based group to target."

The absence of 15 Muslim clerics and civic leaders made little difference to the size of a breakfast roster that totaled more than 360, but it made their concerns about police infiltration of Muslim neighborhoods and mosques a topic of conversation for many.

Some worried aloud about what the surveillance meant for the privacy of their own congregations, while others dismissed the boycotters as agitators who were missing the point of an event meant to foster communication between religious communities and city officials.

"We just need to have dialogue. And if you don't sit down and have the dialogue, you're really not going to get very far," said Katherine Vizcaino, a Muslim who said the boycotters were "trying to make it a controversy where there really doesn't need to be."

Bloomberg didn't directly address the boycott during the event, though he did quote his father as telling him that "discrimination against anyone is discrimination against everyone."

Rabbi Michael Weisser, who signed the boycott letter as a supporter but attended the breakfast, said he told several officials "the administration has an obligation to fill in the gaps and talk to people" about the surveillance programs. All were receptive, he said.

Weisser views the surveillance as not just a Muslim concern, saying it echoes the targeting of Jews in Germany ahead of World War II. "If we can have rampant surveillance with no suspicion of wrongdoing, then everyone is at risk," he said.

On his weekly Friday morning appearance on WOR-AM, Bloomberg defended the police, saying they don't target any ethnic group.

"It's like saying you are going after people that are my height with brown hair. If a perp is described that way in the neighborhood, you look at everybody in the neighborhood that's got brown hair, my height, you stop them," he said.

"But we have great race relations here. The communities, whether they're Muslim or Jewish or Christian or Hindu or Buddhist or whatever, all contribute to this city. We don't target any one of them. We don't target any neighborhood."

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