Turkey's chief rabbi attends 'Meeting of Civilizations'

Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva joins Muslim and Christian leaders at week-long peace symposium in Hatay.

Turkey's Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva was one of several religious leaders to participate in the First Hatay Meeting of Civilizations, held this week in the religiously and ethnically diverse southern city of Hatay. During the week-long symposium, which ends on Friday, Haleva joined a call to banish violence from all religions and to work toward peace in society. The Anatolian Times quoted Haleva as commenting despairingly that civilizations were "spending $100 million every hour for tanks, rifles and bullets... If this is civilization, then I am not a part of it. Is this what our creator expects of us?" Haleva said. The chief rabbi, who was lightly wounded in a deadly bombing that severely damaged the Neveh Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul two years ago, added: "If religions cannot protect civilizations from committing suicide, all steps taken until today would be of no use." Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the gathering, which included religious leaders from Turkey's Muslim, Greek Orthodox and Armenian communities, with a speech that stressed religious tolerance and respect for diversity. Zaman, a Turkish on-line newspaper, quoted Erdogan as saying, "The [Koran] says that we were created as diverse peoples so that we could get acquainted with each other. According to this, our separation into different nations should not cause conflicts. On the contrary, it should enable acquaintance and dialogue among us." Erdogan also simultaneously criticized Islamic terrorism and the rush to view Muslims as terrorists. "I declare Islamic-phobia a crime against humanity in the same way we accept anti-Semitism as a crime against humanity," the prime minister was quoted as saying. On Wednesday afternoon, US public relations chief Karen Hughes, who is traveling throughout the Middle East to try to improve the image of the United States among Muslims, took time to meet with Haleva and other religious leaders at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. The Associated Press reported that Hughes would not reveal precisely what she discussed with Haleva and the others, saying simply, "We discussed the problems of the world."