Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Christianity and the Middle East: Israeli Group Seeks to Eliminate Inter-Religious Bias and Bigotry

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Christianity and the Middle East: Israeli Group Seeks to Eliminate Inter-Religious Bias and Bigotry

Article excerpt

Christianity and the Middle East: Israeli Group Seeks to Eliminate Inter- Religious Bias and Bigotry

It is a tragic fact that religion has been the catalyst for some of history's grossest perversions. General Secretary Jonathan Tsevi of the Association for the Promotion of Inter-Religious Education in Israel (P.O. Box 7972, Jerusalem 91079), cites a few of the far too numerous examples: the ancient Israelite invasion of Canaan, the Christian Crusades, the 1492 Spanish deportation of Jews, the Shi'i Muslim Hezbollah's suicide truck-bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, and the widespread bloodshed throughout India in the wake of the destruction of the Badri Mosque in Ayodhya, India.

"Most people today are yearning for a world of peace and harmony between peoples, nations and religions," a report by the association declares. "The vast majority of world religions proclaim their desire" for such a world.

Tsevi attributes the perversion of such good intentions into the intellectual under-girding for pogroms and persecutions in part on believers. The convictions of many about the unique merits of their faith lead them to conclude that it makes them "special" and "superior" to others whom they are free to denigrate and permitted, sometimes encouraged, to repress or eliminate.

Another factor in religion-inspired conflict is the skill of self-serving manipulators who are able to take loyalty to institutions, creeds, traditions, scriptures, structures, symbols or relationships, and redirect that loyalty to serve their own purposes.

Such misuse of religion, mixed with ignorance, misinformation and disinformation, Tsevi sees as elements in the escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence, and the spread of its divisiveness to other lands and to succeeding generations.

"When children grow up into that atmosphere of misconception and distortion," Tsevi explains, "the vicious circle is ever accelerating."

As they began action to counter misinformation at their own Jewish- Israeli door-step, the association's leaders quickly discovered that all that many educated Jews "knew" about Christianity were three misconceptions: (1) Christians deliberately distort Hebrew scriptures; (2) Christians blame Jews for the execution of Jesus; and (3) Christians hate Jews in ways that can only lead to more persecution. Jews who harbor these ideas would not be likely to read books on the subject or attend university night classes, the association concluded, but they might be willing to learn about Christians by meeting some and candidly discussing their faith and outlook on their own ground.

An "Overwhelming" Response

"To our great joy," says Tsevi, the response of both Palestinian and resident alien Christians "was overwhelming." The association chose January 1990 to launch a program involving one weekend a month for five months in which Israeli Jews would seek "understanding, tolerance and even appreciation" by visiting a variety of Christians, mostly in the Galilee and in Jerusalem.

From Christian pastors, educators and laymen, and from Jews well acquainted with them, the participants would hear about and discuss the life and teachings of Jesus and the historical separation of early Christianity from the various Jewish philosophical currents of the time. …

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