Muslim and Jewish religious leaders met in Jerusalem in an intimate forum including Israelis and Palestinians. Leading the Jewish delegation was Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and Head of the Supreme Rabbinical Court Yitzhak Yosef. The Muslim-Palestinian delegation was led by the Palestinian Authority’s Chief Sharia Justice and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Advisor to Muslim Affairs Sheikh Mahmoud al-Habbash.
Together with President Reuven Rivlin and other sheikhs and Jewish leaders, they discussed the different ways in which peoples of all faiths can counter religious-derived violence.
“We lived in peace 70 years ago, 100 years ago, it’s so important,” said Yosef. “We must live in peace again, Jews with Muslims.”
He mentioned his late father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who was the chief rabbi in Egypt, describing how he had visited King Farouk of Egypt on holidays with other religious leaders and would discuss the Bible with him.
“My father was the first who gave a Halachic ruling that allowed swapping land for peace,” said Yosef. “We need to stop the minority that stands in the way of peace and admonish it. After that minority will be stopped, there will be a chance for peace between us and the Muslims.”
Yosef also called the leaders on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not to remain silent in light of the war in Aleppo, which he described as “genocide.”
“As we sit here, people not far from us, women and children in nearby Syria are being murdered with chemical weapons, biological weapons and air bombs,” he said. “Millions of refugees are without a roof over their heads, hundreds of thousands of others are starving under siege. They may not be our friends, but they’re people going through a small Holocaust.”
Describing Jewish suffering throughout history, Yosef said, “The people of Israel went through a terrible Holocaust 70 years ago. Millions of Jews were murdered, millions of others remained refugees without a safe haven. The Nazi beast murdered all those millions, while the world saw this and stayed silent. We, as Jews who physically paid the price for that silence, let out a cry all those years, asking how the world knew and stayed silent.”
“I want to take advantage of this stage to say that as Jews, we cannot be silent. Let the call come out of here: we cannot move on from genocide, not in Syria nor anywhere or with any people, even if they are not our friends.” He added that “we are all human beings. I call on you, leaders from all religions—lift up your voices. Let each person use their influence. If this happens, perhaps we will be able to prevent such atrocities.”
Yosef’s statement received unexpected support from Yesh Atid Leader Yair Lapid, who tweeted, “Though I have my disagreements with the Rishon Letzion (a nickname for the chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel), the things he said about Syria today are the words of a true spiritual leader.”
President Rivlin also spoke before the forum, saying, “Today’s conference is an important and substantial one, and is perhaps the most important conference that one can think of these days. Its goal is first and foremost to call for greater caution in any action that might cause the loss of human lives. It is a call that comes from all (the descendents) of the sons of Abraham.”