Diatribe or dialogue?

Those who came to be inspired by the pope's message of peace and reconciliation will be undeterred by the actions of the angry sheikh.

pope and tamimi (photo credit: AP)
pope and tamimi
(photo credit: AP)
Last Monday evening, at the end of the first day of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, hundreds of members of nongovernmental organizations gathered in the Notre Dame Cultural Center to hear an inspiring message from the pope. But instead of a dialogue, we were witness to a diatribe. After the brief address of the pope, Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi, chief Islamic judge in the Palestinian Authority, requested permission to speak for "two minutes." For some reason, permission was granted. The sheikh then launched into a 10-minute tirade in Arabic (without translation) against the government of Israel (I will not repeat here was I was told he said, since it was quite outrageous). This was in complete violation of the protocol for the occasion and of the agreement that had apparently been reached with him by the organizers of this ceremonial program. Why was the sheikh invited to be present at this auspicious gathering after he had torpedoed a similar convocation and embarrassed Pope John Paul II in March 2000, during his historic pilgrimage to Israel? I don't know why, but it seems that a serious mistake was made. Other Muslim religious leaders could have been invited who could have shown a more tolerant, open, respectful and dialogical approach to Pope Benedict and the audience of hundreds of leaders and activists in interreligious dialogue, conflict resolution and peace education. Pope Benedict came to Israel and the Palestinian Authority with a message of peace and reconciliation, emphasizing dialogue, especially interreligious dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims in this land shared by followers of the three great monotheistic religions. As he said on the day he arrived in Jerusalem (Monday, May 11), "peace had tragically eluded the inhabitants of this holy land" and he pleaded with all those responsible "to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties." Despite this message, the pope was treated with great disdain and disrespect by the Muslim cleric. For him, diatribe prevailed over dialogue. His impromptu speech represented an obstacle to peace and to the efforts to find ways for members of two peoples - Jews and Palestinians - and three religions to live together in peaceful coexistence. It signified a serious impediment to progress, but was not the end of the road. Instead, dialogue must go on, and it will. It is the only way that we will develop the fortitude, courage and readiness to learn to live together in this part of the world without ongoing violence and bloodshed. The hundreds of leaders and activists who came to be inspired by the pope's message of peace and reconciliation will be undeterred by the irresponsible actions of the angry sheikh. Rather, those of us who labor in the vineyards of interreligious dialogue and peace education will continue to dedicate our lives to a more promising and hopeful vision than the negative one offered by the cantankerous cleric. The writer, a rabbi and educator, serves as director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. www.icci.org.il