As founding president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Rabbi Marc Schneier has devoted much of his career to promoting religious tolerance between Jews and Muslims. But when a Palestinian imam attacked Israel at an interfaith conference in Qatar on Monday, the rabbi felt he couldn’t remain silent.

Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi, the chief Islamic judge of the Palestinian Authority, took to the podium accusing Israel of illegally occupying Jerusalem, “Judaizing” the city, and peddling drugs to local Palestinian youth.

Taken aback, Schneier said he decided to call Tamimi out for his “shameful and offensive remarks.”

“Jerusalem represents Jewish hopes and dreams,” he told the audience in his keynote address. “For millennia, we have prayed toward Jerusalem. We pray at the Western Wall, we mourn the destruction of our Temple 2,000 years ago, and we tell each other ‘Next year in Jerusalem’. Jerusalem has always been the capital of the Jewish state, ancient or modern.

It is therefore an insult to all of us to accuse us of illegally occupying the city.”

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Schneier explained why he decided to confront the Palestinian religious leader at this conference, held in an Arab and Muslim state that had no diplomatic ties with Israel.

“I’m all for dialogue and understanding, but I’m not going to sit there as people speak mistruths and beat up on Israel,” he explained. “I do believe Jews and Muslims share a common faith and fate but we have to be fair on Israel.”

Besides the exchange between Schneier and Tamimi, this year’s interfaith conference stirred controversy last week when an Egyptian cleric cancelled his attendance because there would be Jewish representatives.

According to the Al Masry Al Youm newspaper, Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradaw, the Head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, announced his intention to boycott the conference because he was opposed to discourse with Jews in principle.

The sheikh reportedly said he rejects Jewish political, rather than religious, affiliation.

Despite such incidents, Schneier said he felt conferences like the one at Doha helped promote better understanding between the faiths. “I feel much more optimism coming out of this conference,” he said.

“Only one person spoke like that and many Muslim leaders came and said they were embarrassed by his comments. I think it’s important to engage people but I’m not going to compromise my people and my homeland. “ Schneier said he was currently organizing an event set to take place next month aimed at confronting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

According to the rabbi, some 50 mosques and 50 synagogues throughout the United States and Canada will cooperate in tackling the two forms of bias together.

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