The Asymmetry of Interfaith Dialogue

Thursday, October 29, 2015 - 6:10am
Photo by Hamed Saber

The Asymmetry of Interfaith Dialogue

There’s an elephant in the room of interfaith dialogue, and I want to name it.

Many of us are deeply committed to interfaith dialogue as a source of promoting understanding and mutual knowledge. I have been engaged in interfaith understanding for over 25 years, probably giving more talks in churches and synagogues than I have in mosques. We are called to be bridge-builders.

Effective interfaith relations assume that we are speaking out of the depth of our own tradition — remaining rooted in our communities — even as we reach out to one another in fellow communities. There is no way of having love for the world community unless that love begins at home, until it spills over and washes over everyone.

Yet in order for these interfaith relations to be meaningful, we have to be able and willing to acknowledge our own indebtedness, our own rootedness in the soil that we call home. Herein lies one of the great tensions in interfaith work.

Real interfaith work assumes that we have something to teach one another, something to learn from one another. We have to be open to the possibility of learning from, and learning with, one another.

And yet it remains absolutely and indispensably the case that the ground upon which we stand is extraordinarily differentiated. We share radically different levels of access to power, wealth, and privilege that are based on our gender, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, nationality, and other markers. And there are fundamental structural inequalities that shape the parameters in which this conversation takes place.

The first meeting of the parliament of world religions in 1893.

All of us live in diverse societies, and none of us have the option of living in ignorance of one another.

Interfaith dialogue used to mean Catholic-Protestant exchanges. As a response to the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, it turned into a Jewish-Christian dialogue which, in many ways, has established the parameters of the whole interfaith enterprise. Given the intense polemics between Judaism and Christianity, and the long-history of theologically justified anti-Semitism within Christianity, it is indeed a long overdue enterprise.

At a certain point, what had been a Jewish-Christian dialogue became an “Abrahamic” initiative. The move to Abrahamic initiatives necessitated the inclusion of Islam — and Muslims. This pattern continues, and has only increased post-9/11. Abraham is back, and so are the sons and daughters of Abraham.

Interfaith dialogues don’t take place in a vacuum. There is always a host, an institution that serves as the convening place. These institutions often incur a great deal of cost in offering these programs. For the more prominent national interfaith conversations, there are costs to fly in speakers, offer them honoraria, reserve a venue, etc.

The Jewish and Christian institutions have been generous hosts, but generosity and hospitality are not the same as a level playing field. Until Muslim institutions cultivate the same institutional capability to be equal partners, Muslim speakers are likely to be at an institutional disadvantage.

Both the transnational Muslims (first-, second-, and third-generation “immigrant Muslims”) and indigenous African American, White, and Hispanic convert Muslims are usually lagging behind in terms of building and supporting the institutions that their Christian and Jewish neighbors possess — and have cultivated over the last few decades). When it comes to these interfaith initiatives, Muslims often lack the institutional base to host these programs and as such tend to function as the “third wheel” without the means or the capacity to reciprocate.

Many of my friends are long-time participants in these interfaith operations. This includes Muslim friends. I do not wish to belittle their time, energy, and effort. What I want to do is shine a light on the structural issues that have a tremendous impact on these interfaith initiatives. Let me share a recent personal experience that elucidates this point.

The day that this blog post appears, I was scheduled to participate in an interfaith gathering in Michigan. This lovely convening has been going on for many years in the Grand Rapids area, bringing together Jewish, Christian, and Muslim community members from the local community.

Over the summer, the organizing committee and the invited speakers (including me) had a number of discussions on the theme. And, in part due to my input, we had come up with the title, “To Repair the World: How Does Religion Help or Hinder?” We decided that each of us would speak about our own tradition, and acknowledge that religion can and does both help and hinder the cause of peace, justice, and healing. To avoid a situation of critiquing each other, we would each focus on our own tradition, our own community, our own history and present state.

This was not my first visit there.

In 2007, I was invited to talk about a progressive Muslim point of view. Three years later in 2010, I was invited back to discuss “Where is the love? Where is the justice?” — addressing the intersection of Islam, America, and social justice. While the topic was challenging, it was received well by the audience. As part of the same visit, I gave two additional talks: one on the Prophet Muhammad and another for business leaders about developments in Iran.

The third time, in 2012, I was part of a tripartite Muslim, Jewish, Christian gathering focusing on “faith in times of suffering” with Cynthia Campbell, president emerita of McCormick Theological Seminary, and Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Cynthia Campbell was kind and thoughtful. Rabbi Hartman was debonair, with a dash of panache. The event had gone so well that the organizers invited all of us back for 2015.

This year was to have been the fourth time.

I love going back to communities for repeat visits, as it provides a chance to deepen one’s connections and build on a relationship of trust. The organizers and I had become friends. We even shared an interfaith journey in Turkey together. The main organizer talked about how his friendship with me had pushed him to become a better Christian, something that I take as a lovely compliment.

In light of these friendships, it came as a particular shock to receive the news that I had been uninvited from the October conference. What had happened to make the conference organizers decide to disinvite a speaker who had been with them before, who had a reputation for being committed to peace and justice and pacifism, and spoke about the spiritual dimension of Islam with a concurrent commitment to the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.?

In short, the politics of Israel intervened again. For Muslims in the public spotlight, this is an increasingly frequent, and almost always problematic, occurrence.

This brings me back to the elephant in the room. Interfaith dialogue in the United States is usually conducted as a “theological” exercise in order to get people in the room; sometimes there is a commitment to leave aside political differences that presumably we cannot achieve consensus on.

Between my previous 2012 appearance and the scheduled 2015 appearance, there had been the latest Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, one that had resulted in the death of 2,203 Palestinians, including more than 500 children, and 72 Israelis. What did we as a people of faith have to say about this violent episode in our shared history, one that witnessed suffering in an asymmetric way on the Palestinian side?

As citizens, and as people of faith, many of us are deeply involved in issues of peace and human dignity, though our commitments are shaped perhaps by the communities that we call home and/or whom we perceive to be on the right side of history. Rabbi Hartman has spoken out as an adamant supporter of the Israeli war on Gaza and has written a number of blog posts and op-ed pieces in both Israeli and American outlets defending Israel’s right to “self-defense.” His writings appeared in Times of Israel and blogs in the United States. In these pieces, he applied his religious authority to legitimize and justify the war on Gaza by stating:

“I do know that Operation Protective Edge is a just war, and as such, needs to be fought. The injustice of non-combatant deaths, when they are the consequence of the illegal and immoral actions of our enemy, cannot serve as a moral shield to protect them, and allow the terrorizing of my country to continue.”

In a particularly egregious comment about another war on Palestinians, Rabbi Hartman characterized Palestinians as viewing their loss of civilian life as “a public relations success.” This was part of a long-standing Zionist diatribe against Palestinians going back to Golda Meir’s statement, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us,” as if the Palestinians do not already love their own children, as if the Palestinians are motivated by hatred, as opposed to being outraged by a 67-year occupation and dispossession. My own experience around the world tells me otherwise, that everyone loves their children. My friendship with Palestinians teaches me that they have the same hopes and dreams for their children to live lives of dignity and purpose, free from coercion and occupation.

As an advocate of freedom of speech, I honor and celebrate Rabbi Hartman's right to voice his opinion, even when I believe his opinion is wrong, callous, and disregards the humanity of Palestinians. The response to morally misguided speech is better speech, higher speech, more morally uplifting speech. So I attempted to respond by insisting that the lives of all Palestinians and all Israelis was sacred, that all of us are made in the image of God. Following the prophetic tradition of Jesus and Muhammad, Rabbi Heschel, and Rev. Martin Luther King, we had the responsibility to hold up the sanctity and dignity of all human life by starting with the “least of these,” the most vulnerable and marginalized of God’s children. I voiced my objection, and focused my comments on Muslims seeking a principled stance vis-à-vis the suffering of Palestinians.

There is perhaps no more heated political issue in our American landscape than Palestine/Israel. But let us be clear about how this issue frames and shapes the conversation about interfaith discussions in America.

Clearly, the objection of the conference organizers in rescinding their written invitation was not about the right of the participants to make political statements. Had that been the case, both the rabbi and me would have been disinvited. There was, and is, an asymmetry in the ground rules.

The fact that there is a two-tiered policy, where one participant (who speaks on behalf of Israel) is invited back and one participant (who speak on behalf of Palestinians) is disinvited points to a discrepancy in terms of the ground rules. It is this discrepancy that I wish to explore. As I conveyed to the conference organizers, this discrepancy is part of an increasing national trend which restricts the public space in which Muslims can give voice to our own moral imagination. That restriction is not only a matter of personal prejudice, but also tied to structures and institutions which make interfaith dialogue possible (and in this case, impossible).

Which brings me back to the elephant in the room. There is an asymmetry in the parameter of this dialogue. My experience is not isolated. Muslims are often excluded from these Abrahamic dialogues if they have made statements in support of Palestinians or critical of policies of the Israeli government, whereas the Jewish participants can have public records of staunch support for Israel.

There is a frequent conflation of Jewish identity and support for the policies of the Israeli state. All too often, the unqualified support for Israel is also shared among Christian Zionists, who in terms of sheer number dwarf their Jewish counterparts. That is of course their right to do so. But when Muslims make statements that are critical of policies of the Israeli state, or in support of Palestinians, they are deemed to have violated the allegedly apolitical nature of interfaith cooperation, and are eliminated in favor of Muslims who remain silent vis-à-vis Palestine/Israel or (worse) play the “good Muslim” game of repeating pro-Israeli claims. (Many of the Muslim “personalities” that are frequently paraded on Fox News fall into this second category.)

The question, and ultimate concern, is how do we create level playing fields — or, to be more precise, level speaking fields. To insist that one group of participants be allowed to speak out politically on a contested issue while others have to remain silent is to create two-tiered model of conversations that belies the very notion of the equal dignity we strive for. The same could be said, of course, about marginalizing and excluding the many Jewish voices who are critical of official Israeli policies, such as Jewish Voices for Peace.

To retreat into the corner of finding politically domesticated and neutered Muslims, or worse, Muslims who champion profoundly problematic political positions that betray the highest and deepest aspirations of their own community, that too is not consistent with a genuine call for interfaith understanding.

I wish my friends in Michigan this week a lovely gathering. The organizers are good and beautiful people, and the Muslim scholar who was invited in my place is a bold, courageous, and wise Muslim leader. We have to make sure that the structures and institutions of these conversations are equally lovely and just. May it be real, grounded, rooted, and bring them closer to God. And may we have the courage to build truthful dialogues.

Ultimately, there is no “politicizing” of these conversations. Our lives are already political lives. The structures and institutions that mark our lives differently continue to shape us when we meet for dialogue, prayer, and worship. The best we can do is to be honest and truthful, and to allow us to speak from the depth of our humanity, including both the pain and suffering as well as the highest hopes for healing and reconciliation. As former Archbishop Desmond Tutu says:

"True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”


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Omid Safi

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads an educational tour every summer to Turkey, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trip is open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.

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Thank you!

My pleasure!

I'm dismayed that Professor Safi is using this blog for political ends, and doesn't assume responsibility for his radical political bias.

He writes:

"...there had been the latest Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, one that had resulted in the death of 2,203 Palestinians, including more than 500 children, and 72 Israelis. What did we as a people of faith have to say about this violent episode in our shared history, one that witnessed suffering in an asymmetric way on the Palestinian side?"

No doubt he knows that in 2005, Israel - on its own initiative and requiring literally no concessions from its Palestinian residents - completely and unilaterally disengaged its military forces from Gaza, and uprooted its thriving civilian communities there. When Israel left Gaza, Hamas - a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel's destruction took over.

In 2014 Israel's military responded to Hamas's launching of literally thousands of rockets from Gaza towards Israel's civilian population centers, including its large cities. Hamas embeds its soldiers among its civilian population, stores its armaments in schools, hospitals and UNWRA buildings, and encourages/forces its civilian populations to remain in areas that Israel has specifically warned to evacuate before military actions.

If he wants to see how interfaith work can succeed, he should have a look at the Elijah Interfaith Institute in Israel ().

Lastly, Archbishop Tutu is the man whom attorney Alan Dershowitz referred to as a "racist and a bigot" during the controversial Durban II conference in April 2009. Dershowitz had good reason for his sharp assessment.

Your history only goes back to 2009?

You forgot to mention that Israel illegally occupies Palestinian land and continues to expand its settlements. It's not self-defense when you're on stolen land.

And since you bring up racism, why don't you talk about the racism in Zionism and the terrorism committed by Lehi, the Stern gang and Irgun? I wouldn't be surprised if HAMAS were inspired by these Jewish terrorist.

Israel has no moral leg to stand on, only pathetic appeals to an ancient historical claim and the exploitation of the horrors of the Holocaust to reproduce similar horrors on the Palestinians.

We can go back as far as you like, SAM. The bottom line is Israel's right to exist and defend itself.

In his other writings (and intimated here), Professor Safi and you take the position that Israel has no right to exist, and so the Palestinians have every right to kill any Jewish Israeli they choose and then cry "asymmetry" or racism or colonialism or oppression.

I'm very saddened to see the On Being blog turned into a forum for Professor Safi's radical politics, supportive of terrorism and the destruction of Israel.

I can understand why he was dis-invited from an interfaith conference. Someone who publicly rejects Israel's right to exist as an independent Jewish nation lacks the good faith credentials for open discussions among faiths.

If you want to discuss atrocities against Muslim and Arabs, the Islamic world is chock full of them. There's a reason you choose to criticize only Israel, and it's not balance or honesty.

Dear Len, I am unsure of whether you are looking for a real dialogue here, but let me say a few things in the spirit of hoping that you might be open to hearing statements that are challenging yet true. Yes, Israel did remove the (illegal) settlers from Gaza, but it is not as if the people of Gaza are or were ever free. They were walled in, with no real sense of mobility . They are imprisoned, essentially, with Israel and Egypt controlling their borders. They control not their own air and not the sea, nor the land. The rates of poverty and malnutrition in Gaza are morally repugnant. One does not need to idolize Hamas to know that the war on Gaza has rained death and destruction on one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Remember that even United Nations schools were bombed by Israel over the war.
As to your comments about Desmond Tutu, let's just say that Alan Dershowitz and his ilk are among the only ones who see the Nobel Peace Prize winner, and symbol of Christian reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa, in that way.
May God lead you to beautiful places.

Dear Professor Safi,

Regarding dialogue: Your views on Israel are well known. And in any case, this blog is certainly not the proper venue for dialogue on the Israel/Palestine issue.

I'm saddened that you decided to turn this On Being blog - usually used for discussing important topics of human existence - into a place where radical politics became a primary subject.

Your posts on Sufi poets are wonderful. Discussion of love and peace, and the universality of parts of Islam's theology too. I've enjoyed them.

Jews and Muslims share much. There's no need to drive a wedge between us here when there are so many other sites that provide that "service".

I hope that one day you'll realize the need for, and accept the reality of a Jewish homeland in Israel.

May God lead you too to beautiful and peaceful places.

Well written and raw. I am not surprised you were uninvited. I'm truly sorry. I have been working for Palestinian rights for some time. I will travel to Gaza in January for a medical mission. I try to reframe the discussion to a more equitable one in this country. It is such hard work and so much racism and orientalism against Arabs and Muslims that surround this issue. This is a human rights struggle. Keep working hard.

Thank you so much, and taking your healing work to Gaza. This work is so urgently needed, and is indeed sacred work.

As an American Jew, I applaud Omid Safi's courage to speak truth in this piece. It takes bravery to cling fast to one's beliefs even when it means ending valued relationships. I am horrified and ashamed of Israeli's actions -- last summer's assault on Gaza and the current violence in response to Palestinian resistance to the injustice of occupation. Safi's moral commitment to justice and humanity is admirable here. In Judaism, we have an expression that means "may you have strength" or "may your strength be increased" and I offer that to your words now -- Yasher Koach!

I too am an American Jew, and I couldn't say what's in my heart better than this. Judaism unequivocally calls on us to live in ways that bring about justice and peace for all beings and respect for all life. Thank you Omid Safi and thank you Jade Brooks. Yasher Koach!

Dear Jade, thank you so much. I am convinced that there is strength--and beauty, love, goodness--all around, and I look forward to seeing more and more of this strength and goodness connect with one another. Thank you for being part of the good!

(Throughout this post I refer to "Mr." Safi because I don't know whether he has a different title.)

This piece would have been better had Mr. Safi been more forthcoming about what appears to have caused his being disinvited. He did not merely oppose Donniel Hartman's opinions. (By the way, I also criticized Rabbi Hartman's statements on Palestinians in my own blog, the Magnes Zionist.) Mr. Safi also called on Muslims to boycott a program run by Rabbi Hartman's institute that teaches Zionism and Judaism to Muslim leaders, calling it "faith-washing". More likely, Rabbi Hartman had no desire to dialogue with Mr. Safi for the reason that one of this institutions' programs had been the target of an internet campaign.

This doesn't mean that I agree with the organizers' actions. On the contrary, if Rabbi Hartman had a problem with appearing Mr. Safi, then that's his business; the organizers should have just invited Mr. Safi and invited somebody else in place of Rabbi Hartman. Mr. Safi did not have to agree to the Hartman program in order to participate in a dialogue with Rabbi Hartman.

As for his main point, Mr. Safi is spot on. You can't bracket politics and the asymmetry of power when you do Jewish Muslim dialogue in the US. Rabbi David Hartman, Donniel Hartman's father, used to say that he welcomed having interfaith dialogue and study between Christians and Jews in Jerusalem precisely because Jews felt more comfortable where they are in the majority. The power differential is always an elephant in the room.

Everything you wrote is true. As an American Jew, I agree the conversation about Israel and Palestine needs to be out in the open, included in dialogue. I am very disappointed to hear you were dis-invited. I always appreciate your wise discernment of reality's nuances, and your compassion toward all beings. With deep respect, Gayle

Saddened by reading your blog about the Muslims with little or no interfaith voice, I turned to listen to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I quote Rabbi Sacks: "God is bigger than religion." And I'll share a story. For 15 years I've defined myself as a Buddhist Christian. In 2013 I was in conversation with my son who died in April of this year. He turned to me and said: "Mama, you are a Unitarian. You made brothers of Buddha and Abraham." Unless I see God in the face of the Jewish woman or the Muslim man, I cannot have an honest interfaith dialogue with them. We will remain silent strangers; not brothers and sisters in One God. Omid, I see God in your face.

Thank you Julie, let us hope to see (and seek) the face of God in each others' faces.

I am surprised Mr. Safi, who is sensitive about being "disinvited" after being able to participate in several wonderful consultations, did not mention how many times Jews are never invited to the table or even acknowledged as dialogue partners by Muslims, except perhaps by the outstanding institution, Interfaith Youth Core, which was founded by Eboo Patel, an Ismaeli Muslim.

Furthermore, Christians and Jews have been generous hosts to multiple interfaith conversations and consultations, as Safi admits, yet he does not offer ways that he could be a host himself. He claims that Muslim institutions have not been able to "cultivate the same institutional capability to be equal partners," and "Muslims often lack the institutional base to host these programs." He says: "Both the transnational Muslims (first-, second-, and third-generation “immigrant Muslims”) and indigenous African American, White, and Hispanic convert Muslims are usually lagging behind in terms of building and supporting the institutions that their Christian and Jewish neighbors possess — and have cultivated over the last few decades)." Yet Muslims have money and the means to create very large institutions. They have created huge mosques and community centers around the world. What is then Safi talking about? What is so hard about inviting others to a Muslim center for an interfaith conversation?

Interfaith initiatives are started by individuals who care about interfaith cooperation and understanding, and people who care do not need a big budget or big institution. Safi said he is a student of Martin Luther King, Jr. King had few financial and institutional resources and yet his compassion spilled out and included Jews and Muslims. Eboo Patel started Interfaith Youth Core as a young person without wealth or status and out of his own passion for inter-faith service.

So why would not Safi himself INVITE Jews and Christians to the table? Host them? Care about them?

As I see it, Jews are often the ones who are left out of interfaith conversation by Muslims, even in the COMMON WORD document crafted by Muslim leaders who addressed the document to Christians, even though both Christianity and Islam build on the commandments to love the neighbor that are found in Jewish scriptures and that the document cites. Again, Patel is an exception and outstanding leader in the area of interfaith cooperation and understanding.

What will Safi himself do to be a generous host to those who have invited him multiple times to participate in meaningful conversations? What will he do, and what is he doing, as he says, "to make sure that the structures and institutions of these conversations are equally lovely and just"?

When you have been invited multiple times to someone's house for dinner, you usually at some point reciprocate and invite people to your own house. Or when you are not invited to a party, one way to respond creatively and compassionately is to host a party of your own! Instead, Safi complains without offering any other solution of his own on an editorial page for a program "On Being"! Furthermore, he says he made friends through interfaith engagement, yet is this the way to address “friends”?

Maybe he should take a break from running to invitations by others or writing about how sad it is his invitation was cancelled.

With all due respect, Safi, perhaps you can start inviting people yourself! You DO have the means, the avenues, the networks, the brains. You are a professor at DUKE! Certainly you are someone who has access to resources and privilege and could do something. Yes, as you say, “We share radically different levels of access to power, wealth, and privilege that are based on our gender, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, nationality, and other markers,” but you yourself have been given privilege, intellectual status, a great salary, and access to an amazing institution.

So what is missing? Maybe you lack the will and a sincere passion to INITIATE interfaith understanding and cooperation?
I was very saddened by your article. If this is all you can do after writing so much and being so engaged in interfaith for 25 years, as you mention, as the guest of others, then what was the point?

I am sorry that you were uninvited from this conference. It is, of course, up to the organizers to make these decisions, but in a country that supports the freedom to speak up for what you believe it is sad. I struggle with the conflict in Israel, because I do not believe that the Jewish and Palestinian people are right or wrong. I believe we all need to have a place to call home and where we can live in peace. Yes, there is an elephant in the room and ignoring it will not solve the problem.

Thank you for your clear insightful sharing. It is painful to read and yet I also find it healing in its speaking of truth.

Thank you for this powerful post on the asymmetry of so many conversations within a faith context. As a Quaker, I get tired when faith talk is used to soften our striving for justice instead of working for the true beloved community, based on justice for all. I get tired of faith being used to mask the truth and am disheartened by how often faith is used for the purposes of empire and colonization, rather than for liberation and true reconciliation based on justice. I love this piece, thank you for your courage and witness. Thought you'd appreciate seeing this testimony of faith commitment from a Quaker perspective for justice for Palestine. A Quaker call to action on Israel Palestine:

thank you Lucy! our Friends have been leaders for so long in pushing the conversation about peace and justice for so many decades.

I don't want to comment on the specific issue regarding Grand Rapids, Michigan as I do not know enough about that case. I do agree with Dr. Safi that privilege is often an unacknowledged factor in the world of interfaith.
I do want to point out that at the recent Parliament for the World's Religions, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, a peace activist and an outspoken proponent of BDS gave a benediction at the opening ceremony in which she prayed for justice "from Gaza to Ferguson" and was given a standing ovation. I did not sense that this multifaith gathering of 10,000 people was privileging Israel over Palestine.
Just to be clear: I am a fan of Lynn's and I was proud of her appearance at the Parliament. Some of my fellow Jews were not as pleased. I am only pointing out that they did not seem to be wielding their power in that setting to silence Lynn's point of view.

dear Rabbi Kreimer, thank you so much for sharing this. What a lovely moment you recall. A recent BlackLivesMatter at Duke University included a very similar declaration about seeking justice globally, from Gaza to Ferguson.

Thank you for this well-written, respectful and yet honest reflection.

I have, sadly, observed the truth of your observations and reflections. Thank you for your articulation. I am moved by your gracious statement of well wishes for the conference to which you were "dis-invited." Continuing these interfaith dialogues is critical to peace with justice in our world; most pointedly for Israel and Palestine, and the Mid-East, but also for our local U.S. communities. I think it will be from a groundswell of grassroots understanding that the critically needed change can come in American policy toward Israel and Palestine (which is so misguidedly and so heavily pro-Israel) because our government leaders are entrenched in their bias (as is most of our media). I am very grateful for your contribution to this dialogue.

Dr. Omid's analysis was/is spot on. He clearly states what the problem is. I support it 1000%!

Politics and ideologies blind people. The problems in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank are complicated, but more and more it seems that Israel is becoming the opressor. I ache for all involved.

Thank you for sharing this. I write as a Jewish Israeli humanist and human rights activist who is committed to living in Israel alongside Palestinians in equality and in understanding that living together is about much more than "co-existence" but rather about mutually assured existence. The Occupation and the political imbalance between Jews and Palestinians in Israel places the idea of dialogue "among equals" at the nexus of any critique into dialogue as an idea precisely because there is no symmetry in terms of political (and other) between Palestinians and Israeli Jews. The Israeli Jewish community is hegemonic. Say what one might about the idea of the Jewish and democratic state, the two state process v. the one state idea, BDS, Boycotts, terror (by Palestinians and by Jewish settlers) etc., with a power imbalance that worms its way in to dis-inviting (boycotting) Omid Safdi from a multi faith and multi-world-view dialogue event it becomes clear that sometimes when those with the power talk about dialogue and co-existence it seems to be just talk, if not camouflage for maintaining an unacceptable status quo. This does not mean do not talk and do not have dialogue but it must be dialogue among people equally situated to express their thoughts and act to turn dialogue into real political change.

Thank you for this wonderful piece. I have been Muslim for only two years. I know the feeling of being marginalized, even to the point of finding how few and far between are places of worship and community for Muslims. There is so much common ground that people refuse to see or explore. Our faith teaches that we have the utmost respect for "people of the Book," i.e., Jews and Christians. This becomes very difficult when the religions are politicized. I have been long aware of the difference between Judaism as a faith and political (often Zionist) Judaism. It is truly dangerous when the purity of a faith is hijacked by political ideologies. This is happening on all fronts. When we do try to discuss matters based on each of our true and pure faiths, political discourse takes over. This is the sadness of the attempts for true interfaith dialogue today. Dialogue is meant to be an attempt at listening to each other and finding common ground, not a shouting match of accusatory and inflammatory language as it has become. It has become cliché, but it is a valid question: Can't we all just get along?

"Bold, courageous and wise" substitute invited to academic confab. What's the problem?

Indeed a sad commentary. Thank you for naming the "Elephant in the Room", and the quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "Only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing." It appears that pressure from the pro-Israeli lobby got you disinvited. Did the organizers have the decency to honestly explain why you were excluded? As you say, if it is because of "politics" (your truth-telling regarding the oppression of the Palestinians), why wasn't the pro-Israeli speaker also excluded? This is such a shameful stain on all of us here in western Michigan.

"someday a real rain will come & wash all the hate, oppression, and injustice off the earth."

This is such an important and uncomfortable and required conversation for us all to have. Thank you for bringing it to to the table because until we have this conversation, we will make very little progress of any kind towards meaningful reconciliation for all people of faith. We are trying to have this same type of dialogue about race in South Carolina, and it is difficult, but necessary work.

Thank you, Omid. Truth will out even if difficult.

I enjoyed reading the article. The point about how power and privilege of some religious groups can marginalize other religious groups was revealing, as also the way in which people who try to speak their mind are shut out on the excuse of negative point of views affecting one group. I myself have experienced opposition from a Muslim member of my interfaith group, when in a talk on Zoroastrian religion, I mentioned the historical fact that the majority religion of three Persian empires, Zoroastrianism, became a minority religion, after the Arab Muslim invasion of Iran in the seventh century, due to genocide, forced conversion to Islam, kidnapping and raping of women and enslavement, humiliation, and heavy tax on non-Muslims, with persecution continuing under successive Muslim rulers for many centuries. I was told that we are not supposed to say anything negative, and I replied that I have to reveal the facts, so people know that at one time we were a major monotheistic religion, and that we are not some new age cult.

Omid: I had no idea this was going on. It disturbs me. I'll dig a bit deeper into this and ask some questions.
Meanwhile, your good work started here is continuing.

Thank you, Prof. Safi for shining a light on this issue. I gave my first talk in several years to an interfaith gathering yesterday, in celebration of Pope's declaration of a Year of Mercy. I have largely stepped away from this venue because I have witnessed first hand the silencing of any real dialog on Israel/Palestine and feel that this relegates Interfaith work to an arena of tolerance, not reconciliation. Several years back, 'Occupation 101' was shown on the local religious cable channel, and the Jewish community went ballistic. The film was full of data, statistics, and facts about the plight of Palestinians under occupation, with commentary by Noam Chomsky and the much demonized Alison Weir. I watched the machine kick into gear, to silence the occupied, to cry out "Holocaust!" and the local council issued an apology to the Jewish community and aired a piece of pure propaganda on the "only true democracy in the Middle East." I thought we missed a real opportunity to walk the talk and do some real work on conflict resolution and deep listening to one another. Several years have passed, and Jewish Voice for Peace, Breaking the Silence, and the ready availability of images of the devastation in Gaza via social media has many more people questioning the wisdom of our unconditional support (especially the amount of military aid) for the apartheid reality that is Israel. I've come to believe that my voice an artist is much more likely to have any effect on the mythology that and occupying force is by law justified in "defending" itself with military force against bottle rockets and stones of an unarmed captive people. No one in the US is much interested in reading the Geneva Convention, and calmly examining whether of not by definition war crimes have been committed in Israel, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, and on and on. But for me, sitting in a room pretending to be brothers and sisters in the true sense of the word and refusing to reconcile our differences in a meaningful way is problematic. Silencing dissent, may lead to silence, but it certainly does not lead to peace.

Thank you.
You have identified the key moral issue of our time, actively censored in currently misnamed "Interfaith dialogue" - the genocide/holocaust of the suffering Palestinians by the apartheid Israeli regime.
This key moral issue is the most long standing and best documented genocide in history.
I am deeply suspicious of almost all "Interfaith" organisations, often funded partly or completely, often covertly, by pro-apartheid Israeli regime sponsors, and their naive, usually fundamentalist (often Christian Zionist) partners.
Some good news though, - I am getting letters printed in the national UK Catholic press every week , relating to this issue.
Yours sincerely,
Dr Joseph O' Neill

I have to tell you how much I appreciate your essays - this one included. I think you were hurt to be dis-invited to this interfaith conference. I'm sure they had their reasons - still - if I had been there, I would've missed your input in the discussion. I don't see you as radical or single minded or remotely hostile. I think you care about people, about children, about quality of life. I think you care about helping people find ways of being able to work together, get along with each other, accept each other - in spite of their differences. Thank you.