Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman and I were privileged to attend an iftar dinner in Vadi Ara (at ths Miss Elrim Hall in Arareh) on August 16th, which was sponsored by Division of Religious Communities of the State of Israel, with which ICCI has worked closely for the past several years. This office, which is part of Israel’s Ministry of Interior, coordinates religious services for all non-Jewish communities in Israel—Christians, Muslims, Druze and Circasians. For the past 5 years, they have sponsored an iftar dinner for Muslims from throughout Israel, to which they invite Jewish leaders, such as the chief rabbi, Rabbi Yonah Metzger and Rabbi Eli Yishai, of Shaas, who is Minister of the Interior. We were invited this year as rabbis who are active in inter-religious dialogue in Israel.
Greetings were given by leading representatives of Christianity and Islam in Israel, as well as by the mayor of Nazareth, who represented the Union of Local Councils. Each person who spoke also offered polite critiques of the functioning of the Ministry of the Interior vis a vis their communities. The Christian leader—Bishop Marcuzzo of Nazareth, the vicar for Christian communities in Israel on behalf of the Latin Patriarchate, rebuked the minister for non-responsiveness to problems of the Christian communities in Israel since 2004, and reminded him of his recent promise at a meeting in Jerusalem by urging him to make the promise concrete! The Muslim leader hinted that we need peace more than ever before and implied that the minister of Interior was not doing enough to make this happen. And, the major of Nazareth reminded the minister that more and better budgets are necessary for the Arab local councils, which are struggling with huge debts for long time.
As an observer, I was a bit surprised at all the public criticism at what was meant to be a festive holiday occasion. But I was told that this was normal for this kind of event, and that the minister of Interior, who is a veteran politician in Israel, would have no problem in dealing with this criticism. Indeed, in his brief response, Rabbi Yishai rebuffed the criticism quickly and used the occasion to call for more dialogue among members of the major religions in Israel, an idea which we of course applaud.