Interfaith dialogue out of control

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Interfaith is like motherhood and apple pie. Everyone supports it.

But there is one proviso. Dialogue can only work when both parties are genuinely committed and we avoid making concessions in order to curry favor that merely create a fa硤e of goodwill but in reality compromise Jewish dignity, enabling evil to flourish.

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) boasts of the good relations it forged with the Vatican. But regrettably their public elevation of an apostate from the Jewish faith is an example of the problem.

Cardinal Lustiger is an honorable man, a Holocaust survivor, and undoubtedly sincere in his opposition to anti-Semitism. But he remains an apostate who insists on describing himself as a “fulfilled Jew.”

There are legitimate grounds for cooperating with Lustiger but his repeated presence as a Vatican liaison on Jewish affairs at WJC platforms (he has now been co-opted as a member of the WJC Policy Council), displays a lack of dignity and insensitivity to the role Jewish converts to Christianity assumed in relation to their own people.

It is noteworthy that previous WJC administrations refused to formally accept apostates as liaisons with the Church.

‘They remained silent’
Another example was the silence of the WJC when Pope Benedict XVI failed to adequately relate to anti-Semitism in Auschwitz, the world’s largest Jewish cemetery, and instead exonerated the German people from the Holocaust by blaming “a ring of criminals” and falsely asserting that the objective of the Nazi Final Solution was “to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith”.

Whilst other leading Jewish organizations spoke out forcefully, the WJC, presumably motivated by a fear of souring their relationship with the Vatican, remained silent.

An even starker example of the failure of the WJC to speak out was in relation to the Vatican’s recent one-sided condemnations of Israel during the confrontation with Hizbullah. Despite its purported close ties with the Vatican the WJC remained silent when the Pope and his spokesmen provocatively condemned Israel for breaching international law by “attacking Lebanon, a free and sovereign power”.

In a similar vein, the WJC undertook a joint program with the Vatican to combat AIDS in Africa in conjunction with Caritas, the Catholic international humanitarian body. But the WJC failed to insist that Caritas cease excluding Israel from the countries for which visitors to its website may register.

It is disgraceful for an international Jewish body to tolerate such prejudice against the Jewish state from a body with whom it partners. Even the outgoing Catholic head of the Caritas German branch publicly condemned Caritas for its bias against Israel.

Muddying the waters with Muslims
But the most bizarre aspect of the relationship with the Catholic Church is the frenzied WJC effort to recruit the Vatican to broker interfaith dialogue with Moslems. It is surely somewhat surrealistic for Jews to appeal to Catholics to act as intermediaries for Muslim dialogue.

To further muddy the waters, the WJC made a similar request to German Chancellor Angela Merkel who must have been bewildered when a Jewish spokesman pleaded with her to take the lead in the “West’s dialogue with Islam”.

But even this pales when compared to the groveling attempts to directly curry favor with Muslims.

For example, at the height of the violent global hysteria relating to the Mohammed cartoons, the WJC issued statements condemning the Danish publisher, without relating to the violent reactions and obscene threats emanating from Muslim extremists or the vile Nazi-like anti-Semitic caricatures which dominate the Muslim press.

In a formal release, the WJC’s Israel Singer went so far as to state “The row over the caricatures of Mohammed showed how conflicts can be unnecessarily provoked.” He added the astonishing observation that “99 per cent of Muslims rejected all forms of violence” and concluded with the outrageous statement “that is why we have to take action against lunatics within our own ranks and to look for common ground in dialogue”.

Alas, it’s not confined to the fringes
The inclination to gloss over reality in order to ingratiate themselves with Muslims was emulated by the WJC Eurasian section (Euro-Asian Jewish Congress) in a recent forum in Moscow on “Islam and Judaism”.

A delegation of Iranian parliamentarians participated, including the head of the Iranian Jewish community, who (not surprisingly) endorsed his government’s refusal to recognize Israel. Once again, reality was glossed over and in the ensuing media exposure not a word was uttered about Iran’s Holocaust denial, the obscene threats to destroy Israel, or the vicious state-sponsored anti-Semitic campaigns.

Moreover the WJC regional representative informed the Moscow media of “Iran’s willingness to pursue a peaceful dialogue notwithstanding all the prejudices arising from the current political situation.” To add color to the proceedings, at the same Conference, Moscow Chief Rabbi Shayevitch assured participants that regional interfaith relations were excellent ? citing the fact that many of his acquaintances had married Muslims!

It is bad enough when Jewish fringe groups adopt policies which are inimical to the accepted Jewish approach. However the problem is compounded when inappropriate statements emanate from those purporting to represent World Jewry.

Non Jews are frequently confused by the WJC brand name, and mistakenly regard statements from its spokesman as the authentic expression of world Jewry.

That confusion was reinforced last week, when in a widely circulated fundraising letter to potential donors the WJC President announced that an unnamed Israeli Cabinet Minister had informed him that “At no time in our history have the State of Israel and the Jewish people needed the diplomatic efforts of the WJC as they do today”.

Interfaith relations must be based on honest and frank dialogue designed to create goodwill based on shared values. If ingratiating ourselves with Christians and Muslims becomes an end in itself, the exercise becomes highly counterproductive. We not only demean ourselves but also send the wrong messages to Jew and Gentile alike.

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