Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday met with a delegation from the Conference of Imams in France, as well as social activists from the French and Belgian Muslim communities.
The visit was an initiative of pro-Israel group the European Leadership Network, and is intended to promote interfaith understanding and coexistence.
Rivlin expressed Israel’s strong commitment to freedom of religion, and noted the rise of antisemitism around the world, saying, “We have to work together. We must fight antisemitism.”
“Judaism has never been at war with Islam,” he said. “Judaism and Islam are sister religions, and we should relate to each other in this way.”
“The Jewish people suffered for many years from racism and hatred,” he noted. “Moderation — religious, nationalist and cultural — are the true way to reach the hearts of people. That is the right way to live.”
Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, leader of the Conference of Imams, thanked Rivlin for “your modesty, your openness and your warm welcome” and expressed condolences for the recent death of the president’s wife, saying, “We pray sincerely for the elevation of the soul of your wife.”
“I have visited Israel before and every time I feel as if it is the first time,” he added. “Not only because of the sacred city, but also because of the diverse, modern population that lives in freedom despite the threats and challenges. It is wonderful to see each time.”
Also addressing the issue of antisemitism, the imam said, “Recently in Europe, people are being killed just because they are Jews. At Hyper-Cacher, at the museum in Brussels — innocent people were killed just because they are Jewish.”
“This delegation represents the hope, the need and the possibility to build bridges of trust,” he stated. “You yourself represent that hope. Religion itself is not the problem, rather political Islam that tries to create conflict between Jews and Muslims. States such as Iran, Qatar and Turkey who fund hatred through Hamas and Hezbollah.”
“This is not religion,” he asserted, “this is political Islam which we must fight against.”
At the meeting, a young Belgian Muslim woman participating in the delegation expressed strong feelings about her visit to Israel, telling Rivlin, “before I came here I had a terrible image of Israel. I saw Israelis as terrorist murderers.”
However, she said, “It touched my heart to see how people here are so different, from different religions, live together in peace, despite their difficult histories. This has been an adventure that has changed my perception of everything.”
“I supported BDS and boycotting Israel, and I can tell you honestly that I have changed my mind,” she added. “Israel has a right to exist. Human rights are respected here and the people are generous and open-hearted.”
“I did not know this because the picture portrayed in Europe is so totally different,” she said. “I am happy to have come here and seen it with my own eyes.”
Imam Chalghoumi has a history of solidarity with the French Jewish community and has spoken out against the politicization of Islam.
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Author: Benjamin Kerstein
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