Imams, rabbis deplore calls to eliminate Israel

Haifa chief rabbi joins opposition to Museum of Tolerance at site of Muslim cemetery.

In a stunningly positive denouement after days of unremitting hostility by Palestinian participants, the 2nd World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace being held here issued a concluding statement deploring "any incitement against a faith or people, let alone a call for their elimination," a statement Jewish and Israeli representatives took to be a rebuke of Hamas calls for the elimination of Israel. In an apparent behind-the-scenes deal to win approval of Palestinian imams and scholars attending the gathering of the concluding statement, Israeli representatives, including Haifa Chief Rabbi She'ar Yashuv Hacohen, agreed to language calling upon governments to show respect for "holy sites, houses of worship and cemeteries." This was an apparent expression of opposition to the Weisenthal Center's plan to build a Museum of Tolerance in an area which once served as a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem's Mamilla Park. Hacohen confirmed at a press conference after the event that he had signed a petition circulated by Kadi Ahmed Natour, president of the Islamic Religious Council of Israel. The statement by the eight-member steering committee of rabbis and imams, which included Hacohen and Imad Al Falouji of Gaza, a former PA communications minister, affirmed that "There is no inherent conflict between Islam and Judaism," and declared that "While modern politics has impacted negatively upon the relationship, our two religions share the most fundamental values of faith in the One Almighty whose name is Peace," and called upon all human beings to act accordingly in their daily lives. The Seville event, convened by the Paris-based Hommes de Parole organization, brought together over 200 rabbis, imams and other religious leaders from the Muslim and Jewish communities around the world, including Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger, the Imam of Gaza as well as notables from the Middle East, Europe and North America. After days of blistering statements, condemning the conference as useless because it did not attack Israeli policies toward the Palestinians at a time of hunger in Gaza, the Palestinian representatives suddenly took a more positive stance in the hours before the issuing of the statement. At the press conference, Falouji said the Palestinians here, who stress they are independent personalities with no connection to Hamas, consider the conference and its result to have been "very important," adding "It brought together parties to learn from each other. Religious leaders....must form a pressure bloc on the politicians." Falouji said the statement blasting calls for the elimination of a faith or people was not a criticism of Hamas since "Hamas has not said it wants the elimination of Israel within the borders of 1967...No Palestinian wants to eliminate the State of Israel." But Rabbi David Rosen, the Jerusalem-based head of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations and also a member of the Imams and Rabbis Steering Committee, said from his point of view it is "perfectly accurate" to see the language as a rebuke of Hamas's refusal to accept Israel's existence. On the Museum of Tolerance issue, Hacohen, who praised the statement of the Steering Committee as "historic in light of the growing tension and violence between Muslims and Jews in Europe and the bloody conflicts in the Holy Land," said he had signed the petition in opposition to the project because "I cannot conceive of anything more absurd than to build a Museum of Tolerance which may cause intolerance." Falouji thanked Hacohen for his stand on the issue, and added: "That the rabbis understand us on this issue gives hope we can reach agreement on other issues."