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Interfaith conference heats up

A Muslim speaker at an interfaith conference in Spain called for a distinction between Jews and Zionists.

“We have to distinguish between Judaism and Zionism,” said Izzeddin Mustafa Ibrahim, an adviser to the president of the United Arab Emirates, according to the New York Sun. “Zionism is a political system. Judaism is a religion.”

Ibrahim’s comments were made Thursday in Madrid during the second day of an interfaith meeting organized by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Ibrahim, who reportedly also questioned whether Judaism was capable of dialogue with Islam, was challenged on both points by Rabbi Marc Schneier, the president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

“Israel is not a political issue,” Schneier told JTA, describing his response to Ibrahim. “If you want to understand Judaism, then you need to understand that Israel is a core issue of our religion.”

The emphasis on Israel represents a shift for Schneier, who has launched several initiatives for partnership with American Muslims, including a summit last year of rabbis and imams and a twinning program between synagogues and mosques scheduled for November. Schneier had previously tried, with mixed results, to keep Israel out of the discussion with Muslim leaders.

“I believe it’s an evolution in the process,” Schneier said. “I believe there is enough of a foundation to now bring this to the next level, in terms of tackling what I refer to as the elephant in the room. I think it has become crystal clear to me that those who are engaged in interreligious dialogue, the Jewish community, must express our support and our connection to the State of Israel as being a core religious issue.”

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