Muslim, Jewish leaders appeal for tolerance

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Gaza imam Imad al Falouji spoke at the opening of the international forum.

Muslim and Jewish leaders meeting in a rare face-to-face forum appealed Sunday to their faithful not to view each other as enemies and keep religion from being hijacked by extremists. "We have more common elements than elements which pull us apart," the Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, said as a four-day congress of imams and rabbis opened in this southern Spanish city. "We have to continue to prove that Jews and Muslims are not enemies," Metzger said at the inaugural ceremony of the congress, which begins in earnest Monday with workshops on issues such as educating young people in religious tolerance and encouraging faith in an increasingly secular society. The meeting, called the Second World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace, is being sponsored by Hommes de Parole, a peace foundation based in Paris. Organizers say it is bringing together more than 150 representatives from the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the United States and is the world's only formal mechanism for debate between Muslim and Jewish leaders. Seville was chosen to host the meeting because of its rich symbolism as one of the Spanish cities where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in harmony under Moorish rule that began in the 8th century and lasted more than 700 years. The first version of the congress was held last year in Brussels and since then "things have not gone in the right direction," said Andre Azoulay, a Moroccan Jew who is an adviser to King Mohammed VI, apparently alluding to Muslim extremism. "Our voices are not listened to, compared to those who can mobilize hundreds, thousands or millions with their message of hate," Azoulay said. Metzger said Judaism has fanatics, too. He noted an attack last August in which an Israeli soldier opposed to Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip opened fire on a bus in the town of Shfaram, killing four Israeli Arabs. Metzger said he condemned the attack immediately and visited the families of those killed to mourn with them. Ahmad Taoufiq, the religious affairs minister of Morocco, condemned Islamic terrorism and said Muslim leaders are sometimes silent when attacks occur. "We have to separate ourselves from trends which are dividing the world into darkness and light," he said. Metzger also addressed the issue, saying Muslim leaders have failed to criticize al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. "Why don't you speak out when bin Laden evokes your religion to justify terrorism? Why don't you express yourselves in a loud voice?" he asked. Christians are not included in the congress because this would alter and weaken the dynamics of a forum designed specifically for conciliation between two religions steeped in antagonism, said Alain Michel, founder of the Hommes de Parole peace foundation.