Book Review: Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel – voices for inter-religious dialogue

This post appeared orginally in the Independent Catholic news

Book: Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel – voices for inter-religious dialogue
Rebecca Tinsley
Thursday, June 25, 2015 2:00 pm.

Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel – voices for inter-religious dialogue edited by Ronald Kronish, Paulist Press, 2015.
Since secular leaders have failed to secure peace in the Holy Land, why not give faith leaders a chance? After all, religious identity is central to many citizens in the region, and with sufficient education, and through personal encounters, people may find they have more in common than separates them.

This is the message from a collection of essays by a group of brave, patient, determined faith leaders who are taking constructive steps to narrow the gulf between the people of the Holy Land.

In his chapter David Neuhaus observes that little dialogue exists between indigenous Jews and Christians in Israel, and where it does happen, it focuses less on theological, spiritual and religious issues and more on the conflict between Jews and Palestinians. “The rich dialogue that has developed between Jews and Christians in the West has hardly any echo in Israel.” Outsiders may also be surprised by how ignorant people are of each other. In the words of one of his students: “This is my first time that I met Palestinians that were Christians. I thought they were all Muslims.” This is echoed by a Palestinian Christian student who remarked that the only Jews she had previously met were either settlers or soldiers.

Michael Melchior writes about the failed logic that assumes that if religion is the root of the problem, it must be ignored. He calls for a peace of values, through religious dialogue, rather than a “peace of interests,” reflecting political agendas. The politicians will always fail to bring their people with them if they keep on ignoring faith, is his message.

One contributor observes, “If it was God’s plan for us to come back to the fulfilment of our prophecies, then it was also part of God’s plan that there is another people living here.”

Some in Israel are sceptical about the value of the projects described in the book, fearing that cultural interactions merely plaster over the difficult reality, creating an illusion of co-existence. The alternative view is that these projects make dialogue possible, and that a common language, a joint loyalty, and an awareness of the humanity in the other, is essential.

Readers of ICN may find the chapters on Jewish-Catholic relations over the centuries uncomfortable. It was not until the Vatican II document, Nostra Aetate, that the spiritual bond between Jews and Christians was recognised, decrying centuries of anti-Semitism. Pope John XXIII played a critical role in removing the stigma attaching since the Council of Nicea in AD 325 onward.

As Western societies increasingly ask how to prevent the radicalisation of their Muslim communities, there is a helpful chapter by Mohammed Dajani Daoudi who gives, sura by sura, the many parts of the Koran making it plain that extremism is to be avoided, and tolerance must prevail. If God had wanted us all to be the same, he writes, He would have made us that way, all of one religion.

The bad news is the increasing ignorance and radicalism among religious leaders in Palestine. The good news is that Palestinians pay little attention to the Islamists’ call for a Califate because it would not provide the moderate, modern, democratic state desired by the majority.


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