Rabbi Marc Shneier
How useful is Jewish-Muslim dialogue to conflict resolution?
Two days ago Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger suspended all interfaith dialogue with the Muslim religious leadership until they unreservedly condemned terrorist and rocket attacks on Israel.
On the other hand, Rabbi Marc Schneier, founder of the New-York based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, proclaimed in the pages of the Jerusalem Post recently that interfaith dialogue works. He was rebutting a column by Isi Leibler who argued that too many of those Muslims taking part in dialogue were not genuine moderates.
It is well known that Islamist radicals and extremists have often sidelined moderates. Hiding behind front organisations, it can be argued that they have commandeered the leadership of the Muslim community. In the UK, for instance, the Muslim Association of Britain is the UK branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, just as Hamas is its Palestinian branch. Several organisations advocate the establishment of sharia law and the Caliphate, riding roughshod over the rights of women and minorities. (In Britain, however, there are hopeful signs, in the wake of the Prime Minister's Munich speech on 'multiculturalism', that the Cameron government has finally woken up to acknowledging that the PREVENT policy of funding Muslim sectarian groups is equivalent to paying the foxes to guard the chicken coop.)
Moderates in the West often find themselves without a voice. In the Middle East, they are bullied into silence or killed. As Elliot Jager explains in his article, the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is littered with the bodies of leaders assassinated for making peace, and moderates murdered by extremists.
In the West, much interfaith dialogue builds a false equivalence between antisemitism and Islamophobia. But statistics show that antisemitism is far more serious a problem*. Shouting 'islamophobia' only serves to obfuscate and distract. Such dialogue cements an alliance against traditional fascist, or right-wing antisemitism, while doing nothing to combat the more prevalent antisemitism being disseminated by the leftwing 'Red-Green' alliance.
Shunning difficult issues, and waxing lyrical about our common humanity and fate, obviously achieves nothing. Such dialogue is bland and ineffectual.
Where there is frank and fearless discussion, another problem emerges: much dialogue espouses the Arab narrative. There is Jewish guilt for so-called wrongs done to Palestinians. The fact that Arabs instigated the 1948 war against Israel is forgotten. What often happens is that Muslims advocate intransigently for their rights, while Jews debase theirs. When was the last time your dialogue group grappled with Arab and Muslim antisemitism? It's all very well to deplore Holocaust denial, but when did you hear Arab and Muslims admit to their widespread complicity in the Holocaust - let alone condemn it? When was the last time your dialogue group discussed the 850,000 Jewish refugees forced out of Arab countries through no fault of their own, and now largely resettled in Israel ? The Jewish land and assets stolen by Arab states?
Conflict resolution is all about reconciliation - and in order to achieve reconciliation one needs all the facts on the table. One needs a clear distinction between victim and aggressor. It means coming to terms and apologising for wrongs committed, not falsifying or brushing them under the carpet.
* eight times as many attacks on Jews as on Muslims, according to this latest study
Beware neighbours who turn into monsters