Iranians shun Israelis at interfaith conference

Iran's Ayatollah Sadiki Roshed declined to meet with representatives of Israel at the second Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan's capital city of Astana. The conference, which ended Wednesday with a decision to reconvene in the same location in 2009, brought together a succession of Moslem, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious leaders from 29 countries who conveyed messages of inter-religious harmony during the two-day parley. An Arabic speaking reporter from Haaretz approached the ayatollah and shook his hand, but once he introduced himself as an Israeli, the Iranian leader walked away. An Egyptian journalist at the conference told The Jerusalem Post that the Iranian delegate took offense at the fact that the Jewish delegates used the event to "talk politics and accuse Moslems." During his address on Tuesday, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger called on Islamic leaders to help secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. A Pakistani delegate, Dr. Mahmoud Ahmad Ghazi, echoed the Iranian's concerns to the plenum. "We cannot speak about some issues and ignore others. How many Palestinian children have been orphaned and how many women widowed?" asked Dr. Ghazi. The Israeli delegation heads did not press the issue. "I don't think the time is right to meet with the Iranian representatives," Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar told journalists. However, Metzger told the Post that he held an "honest and open" discussion with Pakistani representative Ghazi and had also met with Egyptian cleric Tantawi. "We held a meaningful and fruitful discussion about the kidnapped soldiers. Mr. Tantawi holds considerable influence in the Moslem world. I invited him to come to Al-Quds as my guest. He said that he would consider the invitation," Metzger said. Throughout the conference, white-turbaned mullahs, orange-clad Buddhists, red skullcapped bishops, black-clad rabbis and other colorful religious leaders repeated messages of mutual understanding. None of the speakers at the two-day conference was female. Amar addressed the assembly on Wednesday, using the same language of conciliation voiced by other religious leaders. "My dear brothers, every leader has an effect on his people - more so religious leaders," he said. "We must be careful in our words and thoughts, and respect each other's religions and opinions. Israel's wars with some of its neighbors must not be linked to Jews and Moslems. No religion in the world will allow bloodshed and terror. It is our duty to reject such thoughts. I suggest that our children's books educate towards peace, and religious leaders should always include world peace and mutual understanding in their sermons." Dr. Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, Egypt's minister of religious endowments and Islamic affairs, told the delegates that "there must be recognition of the diversity of opinions in the human community. Islam recognizes human rights and promotes mutual coexistence. This conference represents a way forward towards mutual understanding, thereby preventing conflicts, [because] religious leaders enjoy the confidence of their followers."