Israel's first Arab minister Raleb Majadele (Labor) visited Tel Aviv's Beit Daniel Reform Synagogue Friday night, in one among a week-long series of events organized by Israel's Reform Movement in honor of International Racism Day.
Members of the movement explained that they'd invited the Science, Technology, Culture, and Sports Minister because "in recent years a significant part of overt racism has been based along religious lines and we hoped the minister's visit would make an important statement against racism in Israeli society."
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Associate Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, congratulated Majadele on his new position, saying "all members of the Reform community feel that a large stain on Israel's conscience is receding, since there is finally a Muslim minister in the Israeli government."
Rabbi Meir Ezri, who leads Beit Daniel's congregation, told the minister he hoped his arrival would mark the beginning of mutual recognition and openness between Jewish and Arab communities in Israel.
Minister Raleb Majadele, speaking at Beit Daniel (Photo: Niv Calderon)
Majadele, in his speech, spoke of the 'Golden Age' in Medieval Spain, saying "at that time, Jews and Arabs lived as good neighbors and cooperated. I am hopeful that the relations between those two peoples will exist between us."
In a meeting that he held with Reform representatives prior to entering the synagogue, Majadele spoke of the political power held by the haredi parties in Israel.
"In contrast to you, there are people who use the Jewish religion for manipulative and extreme political purposes. In recent week, they've had significant achievements, both in appointing religious judges and in regards to the budget," Majadele said.
The minister appealed to the Reform community to become more involved in politics, in order to serve as a counter-weight against the haredim.
When asked about his refusal to sing Israel's national anthem, Hatikvah, Majadele said that he respects the anthem but does not intend to sing it. He said people who felt it was his duty to sing the national anthem were "uneducated and uncultured, with no idea where they were."
The minister also refused to wear a kippa when asked, upon entering the synagogue, saying "I don't intend to wear a kippa and I have never worn one. Kippas are worn by Jews and I am a Muslim."
This did not perturb the members of the Reform movement, who said "the important thing is that the minister arrive and feel comfortable during his visit." Rabbi Kariv added, "a kippa merely has symbolic value and there are Jews who come to the synagogue and do not wear one."
Yael Branovsky contributed to this report