Rivlin chairs dialogue between Jewish, Muslim leaders in France

'When nationalism and religious extremism are on the rise in the world and in the West, your leadership is vital. What you say matters.'

Arutz Sheva Staff,

Rivlin with Jewish, Muslim leaders in France
Rivlin with Jewish, Muslim leaders in France
Haim Zach, GPO

President Reuven Rivlin chaired a meeting today, Wednesday, between leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities in France as part of his official visit to the country.

In recent years, and in light of the rising inter-ethnic tension in France, leaders of the Jewish community have met with some of their Muslim counterparts for interfaith dialog. Senior leaders of the Muslim community from across France take part in these meetings and lead the call for open and public dialogue.

Among the participants were President of the Conference of Imams in France, Hassen Chalghoumi. Imam Chalghoumi has organized delegations of Muslim leaders to visit Israel and Auschwitz. With him was Imam Mohammed Aziziz, the Imam of Marseille, who participated in the rally following the massacre at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse in 2012 and who heads AMJF, a Jewish-Muslim friendship league together with Rabbi Michel Serfaty. Also participating were the secretary-general of the Muslim community and many others.

With them were representative of the Jewish community from across France, including Rabbi Haïm Korsia, the Chief Rabbi of France; Francis Kalifat, President of the Crif; Joel Margi, President of the Consistoire; Rabbi Michel Serfaty, Co-president of AMJF; Philippe Meyer, President of Bnai Brith France; Moshe Sabag, Rabbi Moshe Sebbag of the Grand Synagogue of Paris, ‘la Victoire’; and other leaders.

The event was moderated by the writer Marek Halter, a recipient of the ‘Legion d’honneur' for his work in interfaith dialogue. Halter was born in Poland, escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto with his family and survived the war in the Soviet Union. Since the 1960s he has been involved in dialogue between Jews and Arabs. He has written several novels and a book about people who rescued Jews in Europe during the Second World War.

The Chief Rabbi of Paris, Haïm Korsia gave the Jewish blessing for leaders, ‘Blessed is He, who shares His glory with those who revere him’, and said “In the Bible, we see that Ishmael and Isaac meet when they need to bury Abraham, their father. I wonder what would happen if imams, priests and rabbis in Israel were to come together to visit the graves of the patriarchs and matriarchs so that all Israelis could see that those who believe in different things can also believe together, and that might give us all hope.”

President of the Conference of Imams in France Hassen Chalghoumi thanked President Rivlin for the meeting and said “It is an honor for me as a Muslim to have this opportunity. Today, a flame of hope that has been fading has been lit. Racism and anti-Semitism is rising in Europe at the moment, and this historic meeting is important and meaningful. Unfortunately, Muslim radicals take us hostage, kill in the name of Islam and exploit the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in our name. But there is hope in the Jewish world and there is hope in the Muslim world and that is the young people. The future of humanity is in the hands of the children, and they are the hope for the religions coming together.”

“There is a widespread belief that religion is at the heart of ethnic tension. But this is a mistake,” said President Rivlin. “The belief that links Judaism and Islam must be the key to peace, not a justification for violence. Now, when nationalism and religious extremism are rising in the world and in the West, your leadership is vital. What you and and the leadership of all the communities say is particularly important at this time – no to anti-Semitism, zero tolerance for racism of any kind.”

This meeting reminds me of my childhood, when I learned that it is possible to find a common language between different peoples and religions,” said the president. “I was brought up to understand the importance of knowing and fully understanding the beliefs of other people. My father, Professor Yosef Yoel Rivlin, a religiously observant Jew, translated the Koran to Hebrew. His faith did not get in his way; rather, it helped him. His life’s work was building bridges between cultures and languages.”

The Jewish community of France is the third largest in the world. There are three main communal organizations – the Crif, the Consistoire and the Fond Social (Welfare Fund), along with dozens of other bodies including Keren Hayesod, the World Zionist Organization, AJC and Bnai Brith.

According to official estimates, there are some 8.7 million Muslims living in France and around 3,000 mosques with 7000 imams. Most of the community are Sunni Muslims whose origins are in the Maghreb and other African countries.

According to a report on anti-Semitism in France published in November 2018, in the first nine months of 2018 there was a rise of 69% in the number of anti-Semitic events in France. Concern about the rise in anti-Semitism led to the launch of a national program to combat anti-Semitism and racism in France some three years ago.