Religion, World Order, and Peace: Jewishness and Global Justice *

By Israel, Jeff | Cross Currents, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Religion, World Order, and Peace: Jewishness and Global Justice *


Israel, Jeff, Cross Currents


"Religion, World Order, and Peace" should focus the attention of religious and spiritual leaders on the contributions they can make to peace-building. As I read it, the paper makes two especially compelling suggestions: religious and spiritual leaders should engage in vigilant self-criticism and they should develop practical peace-building techniques. Applied to the topics of special concern listed at the end of the paper (treatment of minorities, conflicting interpretations of religious freedom, etc.), I believe such efforts will indeed promote peace among religious people. At the same time, I have concerns about the prominent role of religion and religious leadership in global politics envisioned by the authors. I gather from language used in the paper that they are well aware of the kinds of concerns I have in mind. To this extent, some of what follows is an elaboration on issues already implicitly identified by the authors.

In my short reflection I will, first, express some particular concerns about how Jews fit into a world order where religious leaders enjoy special political recognition. Second, I will express some related but more general concerns about the role of religious leadership in a just world order. Finally, I will conclude by portraying a vision that significantly overlaps with that of "Religion, World Order, and Peace" and joins the effort of its authors to harness the full diversity of human communities and traditions in the pursuit of global justice.

A variety of organizations and individuals ostensibly represent Jews in global politics. Let us look at three cases that involve the United Nations and peace-building. Many Rabbis have been involved in interreligious initiatives to build a global consensus for peace. The Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders held in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly is a good example. Rabbis have also signed declarations, engaged in dialogues, and joined Christian and Muslim clergy on other occasions hoping specifically to inspire an end to conflicts in the Middle East. When Rabbis engage in interreligious peace-building, they are seated next to priests, ministers, imams, etc., as professional clergy that minister to people of the Jewish faith. In these contexts, they function either as representatives of particular communities (if they are Chief Rabbis or congregational Rabbis) or as interpreters of concepts like peace and justice in the religion of Judaism, or as both.

Alternatively, consider the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The Conference of Presidents communicates Jewish interests to political leaders around the world and supports efforts at the United Nations to counter anti-Semitism, condemn terrorism, and undertake institutional reform. To be sure, some of its member organizations are rabbinical organizations. But it is not a religious organization and its leaders are certainly not religious leaders. I would describe it, instead, as an umbrella organization tasked to coordinate unified Jewish responses to pressing Jewish concerns. A prominent way that the Conference of Presidents seeks to contribute to peace is by defending the State of Israel from political attacks in the global

public sphere that it perceives to be threatening and unjust.

Of course, the State of Israel has its own mission to the United Nations. Israel's mission to the UN is involved in humanitarian, economic, cultural, and political activities like the missions of other member states. The policies and initiatives of the Israeli delegation reflect those of the current governing party or coalition in Israel, which is elected through democratic procedures. It is often directly involved in peace negotiations that include the United States, European countries, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, and others.

So, Jews are recognized in many ways on the global political stage and are engaged in as many kinds of peace-building. …

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