Talk about a heady life choice: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia brings Muslims and Christians and Jews together this month for the unimaginatively named World Conference on Dialogue, and for it he’s deemed an apostate who must die. What a guy, right? And you thought the king was just another despot who doesn’t allow synagogues or churches in his country ...
The heat King Abdullah received didn’t completely assuage concerns about ulterior motives behind the conference, which was held this month and concluded with the Madrid Declaration. But Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs, writes in a column for JTA that importance of this moment should not be “underestimated”:
At the end of the opening, King Abdullah greeted the guests individually. When my turn came, I introduced myself to him saying in my limited Arabic, “I am Rabbi Rosen from Jerusalem, Israel,” and he replied “Ahalan w’asalan”—welcome—but I could see that those around him almost had heart attacks on the spot.
Members of the Jewish delegation were interviewed incessantly by the Arab media. Several Arab figures came up to us and said they had never met a Jew, let alone a rabbi, and would like to ask us questions.
Many of the questions reflected stunning prejudice, distortions and misconceptions, but the very fact that they could vent them to us—almost innocently—presented opportunities to address the misrepresentations and try to overcome them. ...
The highest authority in the very heartland of Islam has taken a lead in interfaith outreach, whatever his motives might be, with the declared intention of addressing contemporary challenges and resolving conflict. This offers Israel, the Jewish people and the West a significant opportunity that must be seized.
Now, if we could just do something about those Saudi textbooks.