What Can We Talk about with the Arab-Muslim World?

I attended a fascinating seminar yesterday at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies  (JIIS) on the topic of “What Can We Talk about with the Arab-Muslim World?” It was based on a new book in English by Prof. Yizhak Reiter, an old friend, called War, Peace and International Relations in Islam: Muslim Scholars on Peace Accords with Israel, published jointly now in English by the JIIS and the  Shasha Center for Strategic Studies of the Hebrew University and Sussex Academic Press.

 Professor Reiter, of JIIS and the Ashkelon Academic College, spoke first. He told us that there are many Muslim religious leaders who have issued fatwas in favor of peace agreements. This is because some ideologies actually change sometimes, he said, as a result of changing political and security situations. In fact, Prof. Reiter said that religious interpretations are changing all the time, according to new circumstances, and Muslim religious leaders can go back to the prophet Muhammad who made agreements with non-Muslims!

In his research, Prof. Reiter found fatwas of different muftis which actually supported peace agreements withIsrael! In the world of “real-politik”, under certain circumstances, one can sign a peace agreement withIsrael!

Moreover, these new fatwas can help secular leaders with their people who are in the middle of the political spectrum—what we might called “traditional” (as opposed to “secular” or “religious”)—in their struggle for public opinion. Also, we who work in civil society programs should know about these modern religious Muslim initiatives!

In addition to Prof. Reiter, Ephraim Halevy, Head of the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies at the Hebrew University, who wrote a preface to the book, also spoke. He too emphasized how important it is for us to be aware the Muslim religious law—as well as Jewish religious Law—can have moderate views!

I would like to congratulate Yitzhak Reiter on this excellent publication and to thank the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies for translating it into English. I understand that the next step will be for the book to be translated into Arabic, which ought to lead to a fascinating dialogue with scholars and practitioners in the Arab world.

Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish
Director, ICCI

Religions and Democracy in Israel

Brian Freedman reports on ICCI’s 20th Annual Lecture

Mohammed Darawshe has no problem paying taxes for the absorption in Israel of Diaspora Jews. He does not object to the law that permits only Jews to immigrate to his country. He does object, however, to the privileged status that Jews enjoy in his country. All Jews deserve a key to Israel, he said, but once they open the door, they should not have exclusive rights in running the country. 

More than 50 guests gathered to hear Mr. Darawshe, Yair Sheleg and Rev. Samuil Fanous discuss religions and democracy in Israel, the topic of the ICCI’s annual lecture, which took place on June 22. Invited guests at the event, which was hosted by Kehillat Kol HaNeshama, included journalists, heads of local NGOs and community leaders.

Mohammad Darawshe speaks at ICCI's AGM

Mohammad Darawshe speaks at ICCI's AGM

Yair Sheleg, an Israeli Jewish journalist and researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, argued that internal reform within religions was paramount to interreligious reform and dialogue, and that the rule of law should be obeyed, “as a religious principle.” He also discussed the need to separate religion from the State of Israel, criticizing the lack of civil marriages in Israel, for example. Sheleg, a skullcap-wearing Jew, also emphasized the common values among the three monotheistic religions. He focused on intra-religious educational work, urging to “re-cultivate, and then to promote, an alternative, inclusive, interpretation of the monotheistic idea: no longer my ‘one’ against yours, but the ‘one’ which created all of us, the one which is common to all of us.”

Mr. Darawshe, a Muslim, opined on the incompatibility between a Jewish state and a liberal democracy. He argued that the Palestinian minority would continue to be second-class citizens unless Israel sheds her exclusively Jewish character and transforms into a secular, civic society.

The last speaker on the panel was Rev. Samuil Fanous, an Anglican pastor from Ramleh. Rev. Fanous discussed with the audience the environment of religious intolerance in which he was raised. Over the years, several members of his community were sometimes chagrined by his decision to get involved in interreligious dialogue, which he nevertheless pursued. Rev. Fanous invoked the biblical axiom “Love your neighbor as yourself” to reinforce his viewpoint that religion is a viable vehicle with which to promote peace. He also discussed issues of Palestinian identity, lamenting that his “country has enmity with his state.”

After the panelists aired their views on the lecture topic, the audience members asked the speakers questions about the issue at hand.

Photos from this event can be found at ICCI’s Facebook page, here.

Summertime in Israel

Dear Friends,

It’s summertime in Israel.  The sun shines every day (sometimes a little too much!).  In Jerusalem, thousands of people from all over the world – and all over Israel – are viewing nearly 200 films at the 28th annual Jerusalem International Film Festival.  And, a few blocks away, hundreds of rabbis and lay leaders are studying Torah in the unique and enlightening, spiritual and intellectual atmosphere of the Shalom Hartman Institute.

At the same time, many politicians and pundits continue to warn us of the “diplomatic tsunami” that will hit us in September when the U.N. recognizes (again) the existence of Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza.

Are we in denial?  Should we be more worried about the political tsunami which is coming our way?

There is another point of view which we must consider, a point of view that one can hear in Israel – unilateral declarations won’t bring a peace agreement. Just as the unilateral disengagement from Gaza a few years ago did not bring peace, neither will a unilateral declaration by the Palestinians bring peace.

Therefore, I join those who still say that the only real solution to the conflict in our region will come through diplomatic negotiations.  Both sides have avoided genuine dialogue in favor of political posturing for too long.  It is time for our leaders to return to the negotiating table to enter into serious, systematic and substantive discussions which, with painful compromises from both sides, will bring about a lasting solution.


Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish

ICCI’s Alumni Community Event in Jaffa

By Brian Freedman, ICCI intern

Alumni from ICCI’s three young adult programs met in Jaffa for a tour of the storied city as part of a new initiative to create and maintain a strong alumni community. A professional tour guide walked the more than 20 Palestinian and Israeli Jewish alumni through the streets of the historic city, while highlighting significant landmarks and discussing the roots of Palestinian nationalism.

Jaffa Clock Tower

Jaffa Clock Tower

During the tour, which started at the Ottoman Clock Tower, winded its way through the famous Jaffa Flea Market and ended at the Jaffa Book and Coffee Shop, the alumni were charged with interviewing passersby about their thoughts on the expected Palestinian declaration of a state in September. At the end of the tour, the participants relaxed in a room above the bookshop with coffee and sweets and shared the results of their interviews and their personal feelings on the discussion topic.

Hanni, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, was the most ambitious participant, collecting six interviews during the tour, enough for the more reticent alumni who preferred to listen to the tour guide and not bother strangers. Hanni’s findings ranged from ignorance to optimism to aversion to politics in general. When the discussion moved to the alumni’s own opinions, Hanni stressed that the Palestinian government, which he distrusts, does not represent the Palestinian people. He added that he would be bothered that because his village will not be included in the new Palestinian State, he will never be a citizen there. His village, he added, is his home, and he will never leave it. An Israeli Jew expressed concern for the safety of her country, in light of the onset of rocket attacks when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Another Israeli Jew said he would attend a party in North Tel Aviv to celebrate Palestinian Independence.

The alumni gathering in Jaffa marked the third event of the newly formed Young Adult Alumni Community, which kicked off its inception in February with a retreat at Beit Oren, a kibbutz in the north of Israel.

ICCI alumni in Jaffa

ICCI alumni in Jaffa

Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project Delegation visits ICCI

By Brian Freedman, ICCI intern

On Sunday, June 12th, a delegation of college students from the United States, participants of the Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project in the Middle East, visited ICCI in Jerusalem to explore the aspect of peace-building in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ICCI Director Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish kicked off the meeting at the ICCI office with the six students by summarizing the major political events in the last 20 years of the peace process. Rabbi Kronish highlighted the shifting moods in the public sector from the optimism following the Oslo Accords in 1994 to the despair after the Second Intifida. He then outlined the ICCI approach to peace-building, which focuses on depoliticizing the Israeli-Palestinian relationship with personal stories and face-to-face interaction.

The students, who had visited Saudi Arabia and Dubai before arriving to Israel, were then introduced to five ICCI young adult alumni of dialogue programs—three Israeli Jews and two Palestinians—who shared their experiences as participants in ICCI-sponsored programs. Zaki, a Jewish ICCI alumnus from Jerusalem, described a transformative experience at an interreligious camp in New York, hosted by Auburn Theological Seminary, called “Face to Face–Faith to Faith“. He told the visiting students that there he realized the importance of giving space to the Palestinian voice instead of doggedly working to prove the validity of his own, Zionist-centric narrative.

The students, all but one of whom study at Johns Hopkins University, then hopped back on their bus and joined Rabbi Kronish and the ICCI alumni for dinner at his home in Jerusalem. In between bites of baked chicken and brown rice, the visiting students discussed with the alumni a panoply of topics, ranging from interreligious marriage to issues of identity among Palestinian Israelis. Over dessert and coffee, a Palestinian Israeli from East Jerusalem expressed to the group the current, moral dilemma he faces in being a patriotic citizen of a country that he says routinely oppresses and discriminates against his people. A Jewish ICCI alumnus who attends weekly protests in Sheikh Jarrah assured him that he would continue to fight for the rights of Palestinians as long the fight remains non-violent and peaceful.

The students, whose 2-week trip was funded by the Ibrahim Family Foundation and was administered by the Institute of International Education, walked away with varied impressions from their encounter with ICCI and their overall Israel experience. One Jewish girl said that the reality of life in Israel contradicts the pristine image of Israel to which she was accustomed in her Zionist home. Another participant, a Muslim woman who spent the first eight years of her life in Saudi Arabia, said that her arrival in Israel was punctuated by conflicting emotions. On one hand, her visit was legitimizing a country that in Saudi Arabia she was told should be wiped off the map. On the other hand, she understands and appreciates the fact that generations of Israeli Jews have grown up in Israel and have a right to stay here. She also mentioned that, as a Muslim, she feels solidarity and sympathy for the struggle of the Palestinians.

Brian Freedman, ICCI intern

Brian Freedman

Brian Freedman is a master’s candidate at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he is pursuing a degree in Islam and the Middle East. A resident of New Jersey, he graduated from the University of Maryland in 2008 with a B.A. in Journalism. In conjunction with his studies, he volunteers at the Interreligious Coordinating Council (ICCI), assisting with writing reports and conducting interviews for various ICCI projects.


Can one be a Jew and a Catholic at the same time? Are there extenuating historical circumstances that enter into this discussion? What happens when a man, who was given to a Catholic family as an infant by his Jewish parents and raised by them during and after the Holocaust, discovers his Jewishness at age 35 after he has been a Catholic Priest for many years, and only lately decides that he wants to come to live in Israel as a Jew and yet maintain his Catholic faith also?

All these questions and dilemmas are portrayed in a sensitive and empathetic way by Ronit Kertsner in a poignant documentary film entitled “Torn“, which I saw last week at the Cinematheque in Jerusalem, together with  a packed auditorium of sympathetic viewers, both Christian and Jewish.

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