As a rabbi who has been active for many years in attempts, and some successes, to initiate interfaith dialogue and activism to promote shared society between Jews and Arabs in Israel – and especially where I live and work in the Galilee – I meet many religious leaders from all religions and denominations. Together, we pray for a calm and reasonable reality, for all of us. Together, we speak for peace and against violence.
One of the constant phrases that come out of such events is that “we are all under one God, striving for peace, justice and kindness, but there will always be those who will make bad use of and distort religion, and this must be fought.”
However, except for a single incident in which the leaders of the Ahmadiyya community condemned the terror of Oct. 7, I have yet to see the leaders of the Muslim community in Israel condemn outright what we all saw on that day.
On Simchat Torah, acts of genocide were committed here. Terrorism aimed at children, the elderly, and entire families, communities that have been fatally affected and who knows if they will ever recover. We have seen Muslim religious leaders from Egypt who speak out against the actions of the Nazi terrorist organization, Hamas. Even in the Palestinian Authority, there were opinion leaders who came out against Hamas and stood on the right side of history.
Yet within Israel, cowardly silence thunders. It is true, their situation is not easy either, and, taking a firm stand also means taking risks. But, if it is not possible to condemn the murder of children and the elderly, the burning of families and their kidnapping, then what can we talk about?
Last week, I held an interfaith prayer service calling for the release of the hostages at the vigil in Tel Aviv with families of the hostages. There were Jewish, Druze, and Christian representatives, but no Muslims. I searched for days through my connections here in the Galilee, as did my colleagues and partners.
After all the excuses we heard, we could not find a single imam who would join us at the event, unless it was titled “In favor of peace and global justice.” However, no imam would agree to join our joint call against the criminal terrorism of Hamas against innocent citizens and for the immediate, unconditional return of the hostages to their families, even though that is what we are commanded to do and how Allah would conduct himself in this world.
As a religious person, I ask myself – where are the Muslim leaders, citizens of the State of Israel, who will condemn crimes of intentional terrorism against humanity, even if these crimes are committed by Muslims and directed against Jews? I suggest that a religious leader who is unable to do this should return the keys to God as there is no role for them. Those who are silent now, only harm and desecrate the image of God in our world, harm our ability to be human and to have basic moral standards, beyond the fact that they increase hatred in their silence that will last generations.
Already today, there are people who have given up on “religious leaders,” whom they feel look at them from a position of superiority and arrogance. I hope I am not one of those leaders and try my best to look at people directly in the eye, as an equal among equals. And I ask the other religious leaders, those who are not prepared to call out the abominable acts of Hamas, where are you? In view of your lack of explicit condemnation, unfortunately, I understand where you are.
I want to believe that there are imams in Israel (perhaps in Umm al-Fahm? Sakhnin? Jaffa? perhaps in Be’er Sheva?) who can make their voice heard, and from here I call on you. Come, today, to the vigil in Tel Aviv, visit the families, listen to them and hold a Muslim prayer for the Arab world. Do the most basic thing that a person created in the image of God can do and demand the unconditional return of the hostages. Oppose the terrorism and crimes against humanity that we have all experienced. Put the issue on the agenda in your community and emphasize that this is not the way of Islam.
If you are not capable of that then please, do me a favor – don’t talk to me about peace and justice, ever again. Or at the very least, do not be fake and lie to yourself and others.