There seems to be a lot of it going around lately, but what exactly happens at an 'interfaith dialogue'? In theory, it sounds just fine/halal/kosher - members of the 3 Abrahamic faiths exploring issues of faith together in the interests of mutual harmony and tolerance. But there's more to it than that, as this extract from an article on the subject by Deborah Stone, research director of the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission and a former editor of The Australian Jewish News, indicates:-
"Heba Ibrahim is a bright young woman. A masters student in public policy, she could one day be running a government department. She is also a committed young Muslim who recently joined the board of the Islamic Council of Victoria. In years to come, she may influence the Australian Muslim community's choice of imam, their statement on the 'next Gaza' and what is said about Jewish people in Islamic schools. Her attitude to the issues that concern us as Australian Jews will be influenced by her Jewish friends - people she met at the recent Multifaith Future Leaders Program run by the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC). I'm not starry-eyed about this program. I know interfaith dialogue has been disappointing for the Jewish community. The attitude to Israel displayed by our Muslim and Christian dialogue partners, as well as the Arab community, has been deeply discouraging... Recently, Jewish community leaders met to discuss the future of interfaith dialogue. Many indicated surprise and disappointment at the uniformity of opinion expressed in public by the Muslim community on Israel, especially the refusal, of those they know to be more moderate, to speak out." (Our community will suffer if we give up on dialogue, AJN, 3/4/09)
What exactly is expected of Heba Ibrahim here? Reading between the lines, it seems she's expected to tone down her wholly justifiable outrage over Israel's war crimes in Gaza, and to accept Israel as it is, apartheid, occupation, periodic rampages and all. By doing so, she'll earn the approval of her Jewish interlocutors and be badged a 'moderate', which, of course, will oblige her to speak out against expressions of outrage by her fellow Muslims when Israel next has a turn.
In other words, it's not so much Judaism as Israel that's at the heart of so-called 'interfaith dialogue'. That being the case, Heba Ibrahim should understand that, by engaging in same, she's rubbing shoulders with Zionists whose primary concern is blunting any criticisms she may have of Israel and its behaviour.
As Israeli scholar/activist Uri Davis reminds us, Zionism (the idea that it is a good idea to establish and consolidate in the country of Palestine a sovereign, Jewish state) is not Judaism. Judaism is a religion, a confessional statement that belongs, like all confessional statements, to the private realm of the individual. Zionism, on the other hand, is a political programme that, like all such, ought to be judged by the extent that it is compatible with the universal values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the standards of international law. And when that yardstick is applied, Israel fails miserably.
Heba Ibrahim should be aware that her interlocutors will do everything in their power to obscure this vital distinction because for them the Jewish state has essentially become their new civic religion. American historian Steven T Rosenthal has described the genesis and elements of what has been termed Israelolatry among American Jews thus: "In this devotion the role of prophet was filled not by the remote and forbidding Theodore Herzl but by the charismatic and sensationally photogenic David Ben Gurion. The role of high priest was played by United Nations representative (and sometimes foreign minister) Abba Eban, loved by American Jews for his urbane sophistication, for his beautifully crafted speeches defending Israel, and for his Cambridge-accented bon mots. The romantic warrior figure of General Moshe Dayan, who more than any Israeli captured the imagination of American Jewry as the exemplar of the 'new Jew', provided an avenging angel. These larger-than-life personalities, collectively embodying Israel virtues of vision, intelligence, and courageous action did battle against the forces of darkness symbolized by Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser whose threats may not always be credible but could invariably be counted on to be suitably apocalyptic. In such circumstances a body of dogma arose that was accepted by both Israeli and American Jews. The first was expressed by the Hebrew phrase Ein Breira (There is no alternative). Given the eternal vow of the Arab 'confrontation states' to destroy the 'Zionist entity', Israel had no option but to pursue the hardest line of political and military policies. The other was expressed by Ma Yomru ha Goyim? (What will the Gentiles say?). Because of the pervasiveness of world anti-Semitism and Israel's political and military vulnerability, any public criticism of Israel by the Diaspora, it was feared, would play into the hands of those who wished to destroy her. Even private criticism was discouraged, since American Jews generally felt that only Israelis could assess their own situation and that it was immoral for those who lived in peace and security to discuss policies that might put Israeli lives at risk. At the local level, enforcement of this orthodoxy often fell to the federations, which did their job so effectively that by the late 1960s criticizing Israel was seen as a worse sin than marrying out of the faith." (Irreconcilable Differences? The Waning of the American Jewish Love Affair with Israel, 2001, xvi-xvii)
Even though their idol has long since crumbled, as idols will, and their pantheon is seen as all too mortal, our current crop of Zionist dead-enders still expect the rest of us, especially the Heba Ibrahims of Australia, to be suitably reverential.