At most Interfaith events I attend, there is at least one reference to the shared spiritual values of the three Abrahamic Faiths. But in reality, too little of our forefather Abraham's legacy has translated to "good faith" on the ground.
One reason is how little we know about each other.
I remember a prominent Imam from Sudan's shocked expression when he learned that we "Jews pray!" And during a visit to Jakarta, I was asked by the host of an Interfaith program, what the Torah (Jewish Bible) says about the Quran. My response, that the Ten Commandments and the Torah preceded the Quran, was met with incredulous silence.
That inspired us at the Simon Wiesenthal Center to launch a modest multi-lingual www.askmusa.org website to introduce Muslims to the basics of Judaism.
Problem is we couldn't get much traction in the Muslim world because Arab and Muslim media wouldn't give it any coverage. The closest we came was when a reporter from Al Arabiya Satellite TV interviewed me. With the camera rolling for nearly 2 hours, we came to her last question: "Rabbi please don't be offended, but I know that our viewers would all have the same question: Why are you really doing this? Is this some sort of conspiracy?"...
Needless to say, the story never aired.
Then there was the beautiful Sunday morning when tens of thousands of people of faith flocked to Washington's Ellipse, responding to the student-led call to stand in solidarity with the suffering people of Darfur. Many synagogues from as far away as Cleveland and Chicago sent busloads of their congregants to the protest. The Washington bureau chief of a prominent pan-Arab media outlet seeing the many kipahs in the crowd, including mine, said to me "Why are you Jews doing this? This must be a conspiracy to embarrass us because the victims are Muslims. Such matters should be dealt with only by the Ummah."
But in the Middle East, such conspiratorial mindsets extend beyond Muslim communities.
A recent article by Oxford student Aymenn Jawad in The Jerusalem Post confirms that conspiratorial anti-Jewish bias extends to prominent Christian figures as well.
For example, George Saliba - the Syriac Orthodox Church's Bishop in Lebanon when asked by Al-Dunya TV,who was behind the Arab Spring, responded "the source... behind all these movements, all these civil wars, and all these evils" in the Arab world is nothing other than Zionism, "deeply rooted in Judaism." The Jews, he says, are responsible for financing and inciting the turmoil in accordance with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Last fall, the world was shocked by the horrific attack on a Baghdad church that left 58 dead and 67 wounded. Despite the fact that Muslim fanatics had posted threats on the Internet for weeks prior to the slaughter, Melkite Greek Patriarch Gregory III Laham said the terrorist attackers were certainly not Muslims, but probably those trained and supervised "by global Zionism." It was part of "a Zionist conspiracy against Islam," the Christian leader declared, adding that, "All this behavior has nothing to do with Islam... but it is actually a conspiracy planned by Zionism...and "is also a conspiracy against Arabs and the predominantly Muslim Arab world that aims at depicting Arabs and Muslims in Arab countries as terrorist and fundamentalist murderers..."
Many observers have tended to give a pass to expressions of anti-Jewish hate by leaders of religious minorities in the Middle East, including Pope Shenouda III the spiritual leader Egypt's embattled Coptic Christians, as mere tactical rhetoric by endangered religious minorities, But as Mr. Jawad points out, the most abused religious minority in the region of all, the Baha'i, have never sought to blame their ongoing tragedy on the Jews.
And 'blaming the Jews' syndrome is not reducable to the Palestinian-Israel conflict. For Bishop Saliba, Jewish conspiracies are "only natural" because the Jews repaid Christ for his miracles by crucifying him. In particular, Back in 2007, Pope Shenouda III denounced Western churches for exonerating Jews for Christ's death. Jews were "Christ-killers" because "the New Testament says they are."
Some Middle East church leaders, it seems, never embraced the Vatican's denunciation of theological anti-Semitism. The Church repudiation of the charge of deicide and other anti-Semitic themes in its Nostra Aetate declaration back in 1965, and its findings were reiterated by every Pope since.
In 2011, there's not much rabbis can do to deconstruct the walls of anti-Jewish conspiratorial canards. Any effective campaign to reverse this deeply embedded bias can only be led by religious leaders who truly believe in the shared brotherhood of Abrahamic Faiths. Silence in face of religious-inspired bigotry makes a mockery of everything our Patriarch, Abraham, stood for and pushes hopes of an era of messianic peace for all people beyond the pale of our collective grasp.
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