The Wheatley Institution

Religion and Peacemaking in the Middle East

Rabbi David Rosen
January 13, 2010

Related Videos

John D. Caputo

Post Modern, Post Secular, Post Religious
John D. Caputo

October 19, 2016


James H. Charlesworth

The Dignity of Human: Imago Dei
James H. Charlesworth

December 2, 2008


Darin Davis

Faith, Learning & Education for Wisdom
Darin Davis

September 30, 2015


Click here to view the transcript
Click here to hide the transcript

Thank you very much Dr. Williams, Elder Holland, President Samuelson, all those associated with the Wheatley Institution, my dear Sister Ann Madsen, and all the Madsen clan. I would like to say how delighted I am to be here this evening. What a great joy it is for me because I very much feel that I am at home to be with so many friends and former colleagues, as well as students. If I may be allowed to, I consider myself an honorary faculty member, having had the special joy to be able to teach for a while at the Jerusalem center. It is very much a sense of homecoming that pervades me on this opportunity to be here this evening. But the greatest joy of all is to pay tribute to a very remarkable human being, and a man who I am privileged to call a friend.

I’m very honored to give this lecture in his memory. Even though this is not the first Truman G. Madsen lecture, it is the first since he has departed from this earthly abode. I very much feel his presence with us here this evening, as do all of you who knew him, I’m sure. There are few people in the world who have had the capacity to represent the beauty, the integrity, and the authenticity of their own tradition while at the same time reaching out with an embrace to genuinely respect and engage the other. This was the remarkable man that Truman Madsen was. It is a special joy for me to be able to give thanks to our Heavenly Father this evening for those gifts of mind, heart, and soul which so many of us were blessed to enjoy. Those gifts continue to accompany us as his presence is indeed, I believe, an everlasting one. So, again, my thanks for this opportunity.

I think that even though my topic is less academic than those that have been chosen in the past to honor Truman Madsen, it is no less relevant and part and parcel of whom the man was and is for us. To him, study and knowledge was not purely a matter of embellishing and enhancing and enlarging one’s mind and one’s knowledge. It was, of course, and is and must be a vehicle for engagement with the world.

The Jerusalem Center is not only a wonderful jewel in Jerusalem, as you all know (and I would say, and I’m sure many of you would agree, that it is in fact the most beautiful building, certainly the most beautiful modern building, in Jerusalem), but it very much embodies the spirit of representing a tradition that does not seek to be isolated and insulated, but seeks to engage the world around it. A little vignette which particularly stands out in my memory in association with Truman and Ann is the Sabbath festivities that we used to be able to celebrate. When my family was young we could bring them all over because we couldn’t travel from where we lived over to the center on the Sabbath, as orthodox Jews, and we were able to enjoy the Center and the Passover Seder meals that we used to hold. We would have food prepared by wonderful Muslim cooks and chefs. Some of you will remember Nasser and his tribe of loyal collaborators who learned every single special dish that is popular in Provo and Salt Lake City, and did it with such aplomb. There was this wonderful Muslim kitchen staff preparing a traditional Jewish celebration that was led by a rabbi for Christian Mormon students.

This was surely a most wonderful manifestation of the spirit of genuine brotherhood, mutual respect and the kind of, if you like, little microcosm of the potentialities of the possibilities of genuine peace that we pray and aspire for in Jerusalem. When it comes (because in my opinion it is a matter of when, not if), it will have ramifications way beyond the particular geographical context itself. I think it has ramifications for a variety of reasons, some of which I will allude to this evening.

I’ve been telling a number of special friends this evening that I am the beneficiary of the financial downturn. Because of my work, I was playing the role of ambassador for Judaism to the religions of the world, traveling three quarters of the time. Now I’m only travelling sixty percent. And the major downturn, in terms of my travel, is to the United States where I was coming every two months, and now it’s far less. But when I come here, I discover that this is where the cutting edge of the English language is, despite my accent. I am always discovering new words. On one recent trip I was introduced as a well-known “Dialoguean.” I have never heard this word, “Dialoguean.” They explained to me that a theologian who is involved in dialogue is a “Dialoguean.” Okay, but in my experience most people called “Dialogueans” are really “Monologueans.” I would like to prove that I can be a “Dialoguean” and not a “Monologuean.” Therefore, I will do my best to do something which, you will appreciate, for clergy in any denomination is not an easy thing to do. That is, to limit my monologue so that we can have some discussion, interchange, and exchange both around what I wish to present to you and issues that may be germane that you would be interested in my comments. As some of you know, whether I’m qualified or not has never stopped me from expressing a comment.

I actually want to dwell upon a very particular initiative in the Middle East, in the Holy Land, but would like to come to address it, and its significance and its potential, from a broader context, from a broader vista. That broader context is the response to the question which, I’m sure, must bother very many of us and is certainly a source of distress for me. And that is the reality that we face when we look at the world that in so many places, religion often seems to be more the problem than the solution. In so many places of conflict, religion seems to be inextricably bound up in exacerbating hostility and not in calming it. It does not seem to create a better understanding, communication and collaboration between the parties.

It is true that most places that are addressed as religious conflicts are nothing of the sort. Sri Lanka, between Sinhalese, and between Hindus and Buddhists, was essentially a territorial conflict. Kashmir, between Muslims and Hindus, is a territorial conflict. Northern Ireland was a territorial conflict. And the Middle East, the conflict between the Israel and the Palestinians, or Israel and the Arabs, is a territorial conflict. It is not, in essence, a religious conflict.

By way of illustration, I would refer to the six day war in 1967 when the key protagonists were Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt on the one hand, and Moshe Dayan and Levi Eshkol of Israel on the other hand. All of whom were, if you will excuse my prejudicial remark, at best agnostics, if not atheists. They did not go to war over theology. They went to war over territory. And the conflict in the Middle East is essentially a territorial conflict. Nevertheless, it is clear that religion is used and abused in the context of that conflict, and not only in the Middle East--it happened in virtually every location that I referred to, where people portrayed these as religious conflicts. They were not in themselves, and are not in themselves, religious conflicts. But this still then begs the question: Even if religion is not at the heart of those conflicts, why is it, all too often, more part of the problem than part of the solution?

While I’m sure that there are many different aspects that need to be considered in seeking for an answer to that question, the one particular aspect I’d like to focus upon this evening—and it is particularly germane within the Holy Land, within Israel and the Palestinian territories—results from an understanding of the inextricable connection between religion and identity.

Religion seeks to give meaning and understanding to who we are. It is accordingly bound up with all the different components of human identity--as individuals, as members of families, of communities, of nations, indeed, as part of humanity, as part and parcel of the cosmos. As religion seeks to give meaning to these different components, they are inextricably bound up. Religion is inextricably bound up with them. These components of identity tell us who we are. By definition, at the same time, they tell us who we are not. Therefore, in addition to affirming our own self-understanding they, of course, create a certain degree of separation between those who are not exactly part of those specific components.

This is not necessarily in itself a bad thing, and there are those who have erroneously jumped to the conclusion that this is an obstacle to the advancement of human well-being. The fact that I am part of a family does not mean that I need to in any way be alienated from another family. It means that the nature of my relationship, however, is a different one.

However, because identity gives me an understanding of who I am not, there are contexts in which, when my identity feels threatened, I will be alienated from the other. In that context where there is conflict, I may even seek to denigrate the other and search for my own self-affirmation and even self-justification, sometimes even at the expense of the other.

Because those components of identity have often been used destructively, there have been naïve idealists--like John Lennon, for example--who have thought that it might be a solution for humanity to eliminate these differences. In his rather lovely but actually very disingenuous song “Imagine,” he has those words: “Imagine no more countries; it isn’t hard to do. Nothing to fight or die for, and no religion too.” This is disingenuous, and modern society has demonstrated the depth of its disingenuity more than ever before. People need these components of identity in order to not only understand who they are, but for their psychological and spiritual welfare. Undermining them and eliminating them actually leaves people rootless, floundering and seeking for new forms of stimulation and stability.

Indeed, modern social scientists have pointed to the proliferation in modern societies of drug culture or of violence and of abuse of self and others as searches for stimulation on the part of the bored or, above all, on the part of those who are deracinated, rootless, who have been dislocated from those sources that have given stability and solidity to their own self-understanding. In other words, somebody who does not have these components of identity that I have referred to before is easy fodder for the exploitation of any kind of cult or ideology that easily manipulates people, sometimes for the most destructive ends and goals. The answer to the abuse of identity is not the elimination of identity, but it is more constructive engagement in a more positive way.

A lot of that has to do with the degree to which components of identity feel secure in a wider context. Let me use here, by way of illustration, for what might seem to be a rather theoretical presentation so far, an image of a spiral. If you think of components of identity as circles within circles, they can either be circles that open out into the wider circles and then enrich them or circles which are isolated from the wider circle because they feel alienated and unwelcome within those wider circles. The challenge, therefore, for every educator of every kind of description is to facilitate that the components of human identity emerge, spiral-like, to enrich and enhance the broader society. But they will only do so if the smaller component feels welcome in the broader context. If it feels alienated from the broader context, then it will shut itself off.

Now, this rather theoretical discussion is what I think is taking place within the context of different communities in situations of conflict. And, because religion is wrapped up with identity, when people feel alienated from their broader context, then the way they understand their own identities—and, therefore, the way their religious self-understanding comes to bear—tends to reinforce those perceptions of the wider context in which they function.

To tell the truth, if you look at the prophets of Israel in the Hebrew Bible, you see two clear, distinctive roles. There is, of course, the role we assume that is that of the prophets: to challenge the community; to try to move the community beyond their own self-satisfaction and egocentricity; to allude to the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the need for a more compassionate, expansive humanity. But prophets only do that, or the prophets that we have within our canon only do that, to the people living securely in their land. When the people are in exile, the prophets do not challenge them to be more expansive. There their role is a very different one. It is a nurturing role, trying to give the people a sense of hope, a sense of stability, a sense of the value of their own identity--to preserve it with a hope, with a future, with a confidence, that there will be a tomorrow in which they will be able to return to the land, when they will be able to reestablish their own stability and security, when they will be able to live freely once again. So you can see that from the classical times of religious advocacy, there are these two roles that relate to the conditions in which people find themselves: Religion as essentially a nurturing force for people when their identities are threatened and they are facing all kinds of dangers, and the role of religion to essentially expand the consciousness and the engagement of the individual.

So getting back again to identity. Identity should be the vehicle by which we not only affirm our own stability of who we are, and of what our values are, and of what our affirmations are, but it should be the way and the vehicle by which we enrich the broader context of society. It tends to be the reverse when we do not feel welcome within the broader context, and there is nothing more dramatic of being unwelcome in a broader context than a conflict--especially a violent conflict, especially situations of war. And many of you will be familiar with the popular social scientist of a generation or two ago, Robert Ardrey, who pointed out how identity is always strongest in situations of conflict. It is much harder to nurture it in situations of tranquility and peace.

In situations of conflict, people, therefore, want to affirm which party they are part of, and in this process they tend to assume a self-righteousness in the conflict, a sense that justice is on their side, that the claims they are making are the right ones. And in order to affirm that, they tend to denigrate the other, and to claim that the other’s position lacks the authenticity and the legitimacy and the justice of their own. And because religion is bound up with identity, it assumes these particular roles. Not only of nurturing those who feel they are in a sense of conflict and threat, but actually exacerbating a sense of self-righteousness within the community, and even of disparagement and demonization of the other who is perceived at the threat.

So this abuse of religion, I believe, is a function of both individual and collective psychology in situations of alienation, of where people do not feel that they are truly brothers and sisters of another community or another context. And, indeed, what we call today fundamentalism (which, as it tends to be used more often than not in relation to the Muslim world, is actually an inappropriate term because fundamentalist originally comes from a certain literal attitude towards scripture; nevertheless, when we use that term it tends to mean “forms of violent extremism”) are manifestations of some kind of alienation. They are reflections of the fact that certain communities, in a particular context of Muslim communities in relation to Western society, do not feel that they are accepted, that they are respected.

We all know that proximity of the insecurity complex to the superiority complex, and, therefore, of the reaction to the sense of humiliation or of disregard and disrespect. It tends to lead to a hostile approach towards the broader context, the community from which it is alienated and does not feel a part. (Indeed, one might say that any violence, even domestic violence, is a manifestation of alienation of one kind or another.)

And therefore, the abuse of religion that continues to plague our planet is a manifestation of alienation of different communities in social and political contexts where they do not feel accepted, where they do not feel committed to be a part of the broader well-being of society at large. And in this context, in order to enhance their own vulnerability and alienation, seek to portray themselves, understand themselves, view themselves as the righteous, as the godly, as opposed to those who are without righteousness and who are the godless. And thus we see the abuse of religion that leads to very often the exacerbation of conflict, rather than its amelioration.

In the Middle East, the unfortunate truth and reality is that everybody is alienated, and that everybody in our part of the world feels vulnerable, and that everybody thinks it’s somebody else’s fault. We just see ourselves in such totally different paradigms. Palestinians see themselves as vulnerable in the face of what they see as Israeli military might and power. But Israel is made up of people who are not only historically traumatized but contemporarily traumatized by continuous conflict in what they see as a mass of hostility in the in the Arab world and the Muslim world at large in which Palestinians are perceived as a fifth column. And the Arab Muslim world in particular sees itself as the victim of Western colonialism, imperialism, consumerism, and globalization, whatever you want. Everybody else is to blame, and nobody thinks that they have the responsibility to actually reach out to the other and to affirm the dignity of the other in order to be able to create the spirit of healing that is so essential to bring any kind of lasting peace to the Holy Land and to the Middle East, as indeed with any other part in any other context of conflict. But here, perhaps, the historical dimensions have exacerbated the sense of collective and mutual and disparate injury that pervades the context of the Middle East.

This situation has become even worse in recent times, in the last decade. I was at pains to point out at beginning that this is a territorial conflict. But because it involves people with identities, and because in most parts of the world--and certainly in the Middle East--those identities are rooted in a religious heritage, religion becomes part of the weaponry of that conflict. These are the sources, the texts, the memories that are used to reinforce self-righteousness on each side, and are used as weapons to demonize the others involved in the conflict. In the past, the religious dimension may have been at least on low burner, and there was a general acknowledgement that the conflict was territorial. The possibility of resolving that conflict seemed much simpler, because if it’s a territorial conflict, then it can be resolved through territorial compromise. But in recent years it has been increasingly portrayed as a religious conflict. More than that, the parties themselves sense that dimension increasingly as each side tends to raise the hype of its own particularity, its own particular claims at the expense of the other.

I’m able to travel in the Arab world, and I travel more and more increasingly in the Arab world, and there are some wonderful opportunities and developments taking place. I am able to do so because I not only have an Israeli passport, but I also have a British passport. But as I travel around the Arab world and even broader, the larger Muslim world, I discover that most Muslims today, or at least a very large number of Muslims, really believe that the holy sites of Islam, on the Haram ash-Sharif, the Temple Mount, are genuinely in jeopardy from the majority of Israelis and indeed, in their eyes, the majority of the Jewish world. In their eyes, the Jews seek and have the malevolent intent to bring about the collapse and the destruction of those shrines of Islam in order to build the third temple.

Now, I certainly will not deny, and I’m sure it will come as no surprise to any of you, that orthodox Jews pray every day and look forward to the establishment of the third temple, but Orthodox Jewish tradition teaches that we cannot do that ourselves. In fact, Orthodox Jewish tradition teaches that because the site of where Solomon’s temple stood is inherently sacred, and because we do not have the rites of purification that were there when the temple stood in order to purify us in the first place to be able to go onto that site, we are not able to do so. It’s a catch twenty-two situation. And therefore, there are--in fact those of you who were in Jerusalem will remember and will have seen--there are signs around the Temple Mount, especially, at least, on the western side, telling Jews not to go onto the Temple Mount, signed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Because the normative Jewish teaching is that Jews should not go there.

Now this is going to sound a bit strange coming from an orthodox rabbi (but those of you who know me know that my views are not totally conventional): Thank God Israel is a secular society, and people do not have to listen to what rabbis tell them. I say that genuinely and sincerely because I don’t want people to do what rabbis tell them because they feel have to do it. I want them to do it out of conviction, and out of genuine commitment to that. Therefore, I believe in what is essentially is an American wisdom born out of the American experience --that religion flourishes and is healthier when it lives in creative tension with a political structure, not when it is part of it or is in some way maintained by the political structure. As a result, there are Israelis who define themselves as secular who do go on as tourists onto the Temple Mount. But the vast majority of orthodox Jews like myself have not set foot on it. And when I tell Muslims around the world, not only in Arab countries but even in Southeast Asia, that Judaism in fact is guaranteeing the exclusive Muslim control on the Temple Mount, they think I am just telling them a pack of stories just to get them off my back. They don’t believe me.

This fear that Islam is actually threatened by the Jewish state and by the malevolent intentions of the Jewish people is now widespread. Within the Muslim world, there is a perception that this is a conflict about saving the holy sites of Islam for Muslims. And for Jews, of course, there is an increasing sense (which I would rather unsurprisingly feel is a little more justified) that there is a total denial within the Muslim world of the historical attachment of the Jewish people to its ancestral homeland, and to this particular location, and to its own holy sites.

And in this context, of course, the poor Christian communities are caught in the hammer and the anvil. Not only in terms of their security reality on the ground, but essentially they are marginalized in terms of the claims and interests of Islam and of Judaism in context of this conflict. So, what has happened in the last decade or so is that this territorial conflict has increasingly been portrayed as a religious one. Indeed, the second intifada was known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, the uprising for Jerusalem, for the holiest site in Jerusalem. And this is a very dangerous process because, as I said before, if it’s perceived as a territorial conflict then it can be resolved in a territorial compromise, but if it’s perceived and portrayed as a religious conflict between the godly and the goodly on the one side, and the godless and the evil on the other side, then we are condemning ourselves to ongoing bloodshed, unceasing suffering and pain. (And I might say, time is not on the side of the Jews, not on the side of the state of Israel.)

Therefore, it was against this particular context of the inextricable relationship between religion and identity, and the way religion has been abused within this context and increasing so in recent times, that in 2002, a very important initiative took place. Thanks to the engagement of the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey, and thanks to the providential connection between Canterbury and Al-Azhar, arguably the most important institute of Islamic learning, in Cairo, the head of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Sayyid Muhammad Tantawi, hosted the first-ever gathering of religious leaders of the Holy Land. And we had the then Sephardi Chief Rabbi leading a delegation of five rabbis, and the personal appointee of Yasser Arafat at the time on behalf of the religious interests of the Palestinian authorities as well as the head of the Shari’a Courts, together with two or three other leading Sheikhs, the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, and one Bishop who gathered together in Alexandria, as I say, under the auspices of Al-Azhar, facilitated by the government of Egypt, unquestionably influenced by the impact post-2001, September the eleventh (where there was a need for governments to be able to show they were on the side of good religion, as opposed to bad religion), bringing together for the first time ever in history religious representatives of the institutions of the three faiths of the Holy Land.

This gathering was both wonderful and pathetic. Pathetic in that it took 2000 years--well, okay, that’s an exaggeration. Never in the 1300 years since the establishment of the third of these faiths have the religious leaders ever come together. But, wonderful, thank God, that we were able to do that, despite the fact that violence was raging in the streets of Israel as well as in the Palestinian territories.

And this gathering issued a very important declaration, the Alexandria Declaration, which was the condemnation of violence in the name of religion as the desecration of religion, and the call on the part of all three faith communities for peace and reconciliation so that the conflict may be brought to an end. It didn’t bring the conflict to an end, but it did do something of enormous significance: It created for the first time a dynamic of interaction between the religious leaders, the leaders of the different religious communities in the Holy Land. And while a number of things happened in the course of the years thereafter, within the last few years we have been able to capitalize upon that initiative and establish, for the first time ever, a permanent Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. And it has that long name in order to emphasize that, as opposed to the meeting Alexandria, it’s not just individuals’ ad personam who are gathered but the institutions themselves. And this is the first time ever that we have formal structure of the institutions of Christian leadership of the traditional Christian communities in the Holy Land, of the Palestinian Muslim leadership, and of the institutional Jewish religious leadership.

Now, these institutional structures are in themselves not what I would call prophetic. By prophetic I mean religion (as mainline Protestants tend to use the phrase) “speaking truth to power,” challenging the political structure. They do not do that because they are actually part of those structures. The Christian situation, of course, is better. But, as I’ve indicated, that’s a more marginal component in the context. The heads of the Muslim Shari’a Courts and of the Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs are all appointed by government. Therefore, they are subject to their authority, if not subjugated by political authority. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is an institution in which its leaders are elected every ten years through a political process, in which political parties have their vested interests. Therefore, by definition, the personalities who are going to be at the head of the establishment structures are not likely to be people who have vision that seeks to challenge the political structures and move people beyond the place where they are in any particular given moment. In that sense, religious leadership in the Holy is “clericdom” rather than prophetic religiosity. That doesn’t mean it’s insignificant, because these institutions still represent the communities. They are, therefore, representative of the identities of the communities that are in the context of this conflict.

Now, in the past, those that have tried to bring about a resolution of the conflict in the Middle East have tended to ignore religion, sometimes aggressively so. When one sees the terrible things that are done in the name of religion in our part of the world, and in many other parts of the world, it’s not beyond one’s understanding that there should be such an inclination on the part of secular politicians. By way of illustration, let me refer to the famous handshake on the lawn of the White House between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. When that took place, there was no identifiable Palestinian religious leader to be seen. There was no identifiable Israeli religious leader to be seen there. They were intentionally kept out. The message, implicit or otherwise, was “You religious people keep out of this because you are only going to mess things up. If we are going bring about peace, it’s going to be because we have nothing to do with religion.”

And as I say, while I can understand it, while I can be sympathetic to it, it is a total fallacy. Not only is it a fallacy, it’s a boomerang because, like all aspects of nature that abhor a vacuum--especially where you have identities that are rooted within religious traditions—if you seek to essentially eliminate the presence of constructive religious voices you are inviting the destructive religious voices to take center stage. You are inviting the most alienated, and therefore the most extreme and aggressive elements, to torpedo the process, because you are saying, by eliminating the religious presence, “This process is inimical to your interests. You are at best a hassle, at worst the enemy of this process.” And therefore, you encourage the extremists to torpedo the process.

While I'm not suggesting any equivalency here, whether it was Hamas or Islamic Jihad on the one hand, or whether it was Baruch Goldstein who murdered innocent Muslim worshippers at prayer in the Ibrahimi Mosque in the cave of Machpelah, or the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, all of them did what they did in the name of their own religious understanding, believing that’s what God wanted them to do. There was a conspiracy of extremists who all believed that the peace process was inimical to God’s interests. And if you don’t want that to happen, then you need to make sure that the voices of religion that say “this process is God’s interest” to be seen and to be visible and to be part and parcel of the process. Put simply, if you don’t want religion to be part of the problem, the answer isn’t to eliminate religion. The answer is to ensure that religion is part of the solution.

The Council that we have established, in its declaration, expresses its commitment to three particular goals. One is keeping avenues of communication open between the religious leaders in the Holy Land, to try to torpedo conflagrations when these are in danger of erupting. The second is to combat incitement and defamation. This Council has now convened academic institutions from the Palestinian authority and Israel together with certain American academic institutions that have particular skills in this area to do a non-partisan assessment of textbook materials used both in the Palestinian authority and in Israel on images of the other, so that this Council can give an imprimada of what is kosher, or halal, or acceptable material, and what in fact is defamatory and incitory and destructive. But the third element that this Council declared as its purpose was to support every political initiative to bring about the resolution of this conflict, so two nations may live side by side in peace.

Now, obviously, amongst the religious leaders there are different conceptions of exactly how you reach that goal, or what that end game would look like. But the vast majority of the world, and I’m even afraid the vast majority within Israeli and Palestinian societies, are quite unaware of the fact that their religious leadership declares a commitment not only to peace and reconciliation, but that they want to be part of it. They want to support political initiatives in order to bring this about. This has enormous potential, but it’s really problematic to get it through to the political and the secular diplomatic minds.

Therefore, we started a series of meetings that already took place with people like Condoleezza Rice, with Tony Blair, with the presidents of the Council of Europe. We took both Chief Rabbis, the major Sheikhs, both Patriarchs, two Bishops--and a partridge in a pear tree--we took all them to Washington, where there were meetings in the Senate and with Congress. The main reason for this is to try to be able to educate politicians to understand the importance of the religious dimension. (I say again that even if these personalities are not the prophetic voices who can bring about change in perceptions, they are critical for any kind of political initiative to be able to succeed in the Middle East.) And I am distressed to say that the importance of this has not yet managed to sink into the consciousness of those engaged most genuinely and sincerely in trying to bring about a resolution of this conflict. I don’t know how many times George Mitchell has been to the Middle East since the Obama administration was established. He has not met with a single major religious leader, neither Muslim, Christian, nor Jewish.

Therefore once again, the United States--which can be the only real arbiter, or certainly the only leader of any capacity to bring about a breakthrough in terms of the deadlock and the mutual alienation and fear which comes about by the fact that everybody sees themselves as vulnerable and everybody thinks somebody else needs to take the initiative--the only real broker that can lead a process in cooperation with other components, Europe, United Nations, Russia today--the only one that can lead that, the United States, is again making the same mistake of creating a message or an image that religion is at best an irritant to this process, if not the enemy of the process. You guarantee that therefore religious communities feel, “This process must be inimical to my interests because they are intentionally bypassing us.” That way you guarantee that even if you make strides ahead, they are going to be undermined somewhere along the line by communities who are not going to be at one with you instead of engaging them and making them part of the process.

We’re in an educational process here. This is an educational initiative. As I say, for most of history, the religious leaders in the Holy Land haven’t even spoken to one another. We now at least are getting them to communicate. We are now at least getting these declarations in which they are seeking to support constructive initiatives. We need to try to change an understanding, in terms of political culture, of the role of religion within this context. I’m not arguing for religious leaders to take the place of political leadership--God forbid, especially with the material that we have within our neck of the woods. That would be disastrous. But I am saying that politicians will never succeed in terms of bring about a lasting resolution of the conflict if they do not engage religious leadership.

Therefore, to repeat once again, if you don’t want religion to be part of the problem, it has to be part of the solution. No initiative in our neck of the woods, and in many other parts of the world, will really succeed to be sustainable in any long term sense if it does not engage that religious dimension. In engaging that religious dimension, allow religion to be true to its most noble nature, it’s most noble purpose of not only nurturing the identity of individuals and communities and of their own particular affirmations, but to be a source of blessing to humanity at large, of being a source of peace in the name of the one whose name is peace, for the betterment of all humanity, of all society. Thank you.

Click here to hide the transcript