The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue and Peace

November 1, 2012 by  


By Dr. Ron Kronish

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Rabbi Ron Kronish

Kadi Iyad Zahalka, the judge of the Muslim Shariya court in Jerusalem of the state of Israel, and I  were grateful for the opportunity to be able to present our ideas to members of  Detroit’s interreligious, academic and civic communities last week, during our two-day whirlwind visit to the Detroit area on October 24-25, 2012.  We also appreciated the opportunity to share our moderate message of peaceful coexistence with such receptive audiences.

We talked  about “the other peace process”. Not the political peace process (which has been in a stalemate for several years); but the people-to-people peace-building process, the one that brings people from different religions and nationalities together to encounter each other substantively and sensitively in order to find ways to live in peaceful coexistence together.  We believe strongly in the importance of this “other” peace process for sustainable living together, now and in the future.

Kadi Zahalka is a Palestianinan, Arab, Muslim, Israeli citizen and a respected judge in our country. I am a Reform rabbi who moved to Israel 33 years ago, to “go  up” to live in the land and state of Israel and have served in educational and communal positions in Jerusalem for over three decades.  We spoke in the Community House of Birmingham, at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies of Wayne State University, and at First Presbyterian Church in Birmingham. I suspect that this may have been the first time in the greater Detroit area that a kadi and a rabbi spoke at a Presbyterian Church!! Mabye we made history, but we’ll have to “google it” to be sure!

In addition, our public dialogues in the Detroit area were co-sponsored by a wide range of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, interfaith, and civic organizations, probably unprecedented in the recent history of Detroit. We are grateful for the extraordinary organizational efforts of Brenda Rosenberg of the Pathways for Peace Foundation and to her associate Sheri Schiff for their efforts to reach to so many diverse communities in the Detroit area.

Our message was one that is not usually heard outside of Israel — a message of moderation which emphasizes that peaceful living is possible! And that our conflict can come to an end, as other seemingly hopeless conflicts have ended in what might have seemed as intractible situations  in the world, such as in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Bosnia and other places.
Kadi Zahalka, who represents a new generation of serious and dynamic Muslim judges in Israel, presented a moderate, liberal interpretation of Islam, as he lives and practices it, that is largely unknown and unrecognized outside of Israel, even though his style of Islam is the dominant one in Israel. He talked about how Islam in Israel is different from Islam in Iran or Gaza or Lebanon or Saudi Arabia, where the extremists have captured the regimes and the headlines.

And at each public dialogue, I shared with audiences in the Detroit area our new thinking about the method of dialogue, as well as the message and importance of peace. I  explained why and how interreligious and intercultural dialogue are essential  ingredients for a lasting peace. Politics can only produce the framework for peace. We religious leaders and educators and psychologists and social workers can help people learn to live in peace together. Dialogue, education and action are the methods to achieve this.

We  also both demonstrated how a kadi and a rabbi can be genuine colleagues and friends. We reject both Islamophobia — which is strengthened by hate ads in subways and on videos on youtube — and we reject anti-semitism in any form, whether on the college campus or via the internet. We respect each other’s religions and cultures –both our common values and our different paths — and we vow to increase mutual understanding through our actions as well as our words.

Finally, we presented for Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Detroit area  the challenges as we look towards the future, and explained how dialogue and education will play a critical role in a viable peace process –based on genuine mutual understanding—in the years and decades ahead.  Our role is not to solve the macro political problems of the region. That task is for the politicians and diplomats. Our  task — as religious leaders, educators and activists in our communities — is to change the hearts and minds of the people on both sides of the conflict to be able to live in peaceful relations over the long haul.

Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish serves as the Director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel and the Jerusalem Center for Jewish Christian Relations. He blogs for the Times of Israel (www.timesofisrael.com) and can be reached at rkronish@icci.org.il

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