Religion: the Gateway to Peace?
Minister of Tourism Dr. Uzi Landau met with French Imam Hassen Chalgoumi last week, who arrived in Israel from France with about 50 Muslim tourists.
The two met in the French Ambassador's home in Tel Aviv.
Chalgoumi is the President of the Muslim Cultural Association in Drancy, France, and has fought against Islamic extremism - and in doing so established a good relationship with the French Jewish community.
The Imam noted at the meeting that his group had been welcomed everywhere he went throughout his Israel trip, which included Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, as well as an Akko Mosque. He stated that the warm welcome was an important symbol of peace between the two religions.
Landau responded, "Sometimes it takes only one person with a vision to produce a big change." He hoped that more missions like these could bring a closer relationship between the world's Jewish and Muslim communities. "As the Minister of Tourism, I believe that tourists can succeed in places where politicians find it difficult or unsuccessful," he stated.
In 2010, Chalgoumi made headlines when an angry mob in Drancy attacked him for working with the Jewish community.
The mob, about 80-strong, burst into the French mosque, halting a meeting of some 200 other imams at a meeting of the Conference of Imams, an organization established just last year to promote better relations between the various faiths in France, especially Jews and Muslims. Chalgoumi, who was leading the conference, was called an "infidel" and a "renegade."
“They started to cry Allahu Akbar',” Chalghoumi told reporters after the incident. “Then they insulted me, my mosque, the Jewish community and the [French] Republic."
The Jewish community rallied behind the Imam after the attack.
“We consider these events serious and worrisome,” said Sammy Ghozlan, leader of local Jewish community group CCJ. “Since the arrival of the imam from Drancy, a real harmony has reigned between the Jewish and Muslim communities."