- Associated Press - Friday, December 30, 2011

NEW YORK — More than a dozen Muslim clerics and civic leaders skipped Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s annual interfaith breakfast Friday, saying they were upset that he supported police department surveillance efforts in their neighborhoods.

The 15 leaders wrote a letter to the mayor, saying they were protesting the spying program first revealed in a series of Associated Press articles. The letter made a controversy out of a normally sedate end-of-the-year meeting.

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.”

He also said: “We have to keep our guard up, but if we don’t work together we won’t have our own freedoms.”

The breakfast is traditionally held at the historic New York Public Library building on 42nd Street and has long served to showcase the city’s diversity during overlapping winter holidays.

Hesham El-Meligy, a founder of the Building Bridges Coalition of Staten Island, said he boycotted the breakfast in hopes of persuading the mayor to abandon his support for the surveillance program.

“I don’t care about having breakfast, I care about the liberties that I came to this country for,” said El-Meligy, who is from Egypt.

Rabbi Michael Weisser signed the letter as a supporter but said he did not participate in the boycott because he hoped to engage the mayor in conversation about the dispute.

“From a Jewish perspective, it reminded me of things that were going on in the 1930s in Germany. We don’t need that in America,” he said. “The Muslim community is targeted. It’s stereotyped. When people think of terrorism, they immediately think Muslim.”

He said he had no problem with the police department following leads, but objected to the sense that the department is targeting Muslim organizations because they are Muslim.

“We can’t be painting a whole group of people with the same broad brush,” he said.

More than 350 people attended Friday’s breakfast, more than last year.

On his weekly Friday morning appearance on WOR-AM, Bloomberg defended 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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