Rabbi Proposes Summit Conference of Religious Leaders from Around the World to Help Stem the Spread
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Rabbi Proposes Summit Conference of Religious Leaders from Around the World to Help Stem the Spread

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Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, proposed today a summit conference of religious leaders from throughout the world to help stem the spread of religious fanaticism which is causing intolerance, terror and persecution.

“The purpose of such a conference would be not to discuss theology but rather tolerance and respect for differences-how to seek it, how to teach it, how by precept and example, to practice it,” he told reporters at a breakfast meeting at the National Press Club.

“The growing polarization of faiths and peoples and nations that afflicts our world today thrives on intolerance,” Schneier declared. “We need ways to stop it. It leads to bloodshed. We need ways to prevent it.”

Schneier said that the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, which seeks to promote religious freedom throughout the world, would set up a 12-member steering committee by the end of the year to organize the conference which he hopes would be held in 1986.

“I believe such a religious summit is urgently necessary, now more than ever,” he said. “From it, I would hope, will come a cry demanding a halt to the killings and bombings and acts of terrorism that are being carried out daily in the name of religion.”

He added that if the conference succeeds, it “could become a permanent institution in the international political landscape, meeting perhaps once every five years, to deal with new issues and speak out on new crises that arise.”

Schneier, an Orthodox rabbi who is spiritual leader of the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan, said that there is a religious revival throughout the world partly because of “the fear of nuclear destruction.” While he welcomes this trend, he said it has also sparked an increase in religious fundamentalism which he noted always means “less tolerance.”


Schneier criticized United States foreign policy for failing to take account of this trend, the most glaring example being Iran. “We paid too much attention to the military and economic position and strengths of the Shah without truly understanding the power and the potential force of the mullahs and religion,” he noted.

Islamic fundamentalism is also becoming a threat in Egypt, where the murder in Cairo of an Israeli diplomat yesterday is “only the tip of the iceberg,” and in Malaysia, Schneier said. He stressed that this polarization and intolerance is affecting all religions, including Judaism.

“In Israel, Meir Kahane is reported to be winning recruits among young people for his own brand of religious fundamentalism and political extremism, ” he said.

Asked about Kahane’s proposal to expel all Arabs from Israel, Schneier replied that it was a “radical simplistic solution” which is rejected by the government and people of Israel and “certainly by Jews all over the world. “He said such a policy would not only be harmful but no nation lives in isolation and noted that the transfer of mass population has “never succeeded.”

Schneier was also critical of Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan, who he said be long to “that historical breed that thrives on prejudice, on divisiveness, on intolerance.” He said Farrakhan “is really a danger and should not be ignored.” Farrakhan “should be condemned, isolated and insulated before he spews forth poison into our American bloodstream,” Schneier said.

On South Africa, Schneier said religious leaders should use their moral pressure against its apartheid racist policies. He rejected the charge made by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, head of the Moral Majority, that Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Black South African leader and 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, is a phoney. Schneier also said that religious revival is going on in the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China. He has visited the Soviet Union 19 times since 1966, the latest being last May. He noted that it was his impression that the new regime headed by Mikhail Gorbachov has not yet decided its policy or religion.

Schneier stressed that religious leaders cannot divorce themselves from the political process. He welcomed the stand on political issues taken by the Catholic Bishops and Jewish and Protestant organizations. “Living in this nuclear age and not to echo some of the moral issues is a gross neglect of responsibility, of religious duty,” he declared.

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