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.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

ICCI intern Paula Bu attended author James Caroll’s ICCI-co-sponsored lecture on the myth and reality of Jerusalem

To the very day I flew out of my New England bubble in America, my over-anxious mother repeatedly asked me, “Why Israel? Why Jerusalem?” Perhaps it is because I am an Asian-American or a non-Jew, but throughout the past month and a half I’ve been studying at Hebrew University, I have been asked the same questions on numerous occasions by other students of my study abroad program as well as Israelis. Regardless of how quickly the discussion ended with understanding nods as soon as I said, “Well, I’m majoring in the comparative study of religion…” I grew frustrated for giving answers that were unsatisfying to myself. It was not that I knew very much about the Israeli-Arab conflict or all the religious sites located in Jerusalem, but despite my lack of knowledge, it was the idea of Jerusalem that had compelled me. The idea of a sacred city, the idea of a city that stops running on Shabbat, the idea of a city that people fought over for thousands of years drew me away from a college life that was starting to feel unfulfilling and into a city that mattered.

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