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Rabbi urges more tolerance for Muslims in Europe

JTA

December 3, 2009 | 2:18 pm

France’s chief rabbi said Europe must change its attitude about Islam.

Rabbi Gilles Bernheim said a Swiss vote Nov. 29 forbidding the construction of minarets alongside mosques was a clear sign that Western European leaders had “failed” at building tolerance toward Muslims, and he called on “all religions” as well as political leaders to increase interfaith dialogue.

“Today we need to act so that Europeans, and not just the Swiss,  change their opinion about Islam,” he wrote in an editorial published Wednesday in the French daily Le Figaro.

He compared the law aimed at minarets to past sanctions against European Jews.

“The problem” with the Swiss vote “is the discrimination that it introduces by authorizing the construction of church steeples and tall buildings by all other religions except Islam.

Bernheim noted that in the past, Jews were forbidden to construct synagogues taller than churches.

Opening synagogues, mosques and churches to leaders and members of different faiths would help “fight prejudices,” he suggested. He said some of the tolerance building should be done “in Muslim countries,” as well as in Europe.

Since the Swiss popular vote, polls in France and some other European countries have shown significant support for a ban on minarets and other Muslim symbols.  A French Institute of Public Opinion poll conducted early this week said 46 percent of the French did not want more minarets in France, versus only 40 percent who would accept them.

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