Inclusive Judaism is needed in Israel

by Menachem Klein
JERUSALEM - It is a theological and historical truth which is now practically a cliché: Jews and Muslims have much in common. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that throughout the generations, Jewish-Muslim relations were multifaceted and differed from Christian-Jewish relations.

In contrast to Christianity, the debate between Judaism and Islam is not about God’s characteristics, but rather about the prophecy itself: Moses’ versus Mohammed’s prophecy. Yet one fact cannot be ignored: Abraham—the father of monotheism in Judaism, and friend of God in Islam—is the father of both Ishmael and Isaac. The Cave of the Patriarchs, where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people are buried, is Abraham’s mosque for Muslims. The significance of the Temple Mount and Haram al-Sharif is similar in both religions—the place where heaven opens to earth.

The conflict between the Jewish and Palestinian national movements added two new dimensions to Islamic-Jewish relations: a territorial dimension and the theme of return to the land. Contrary to the past, the conflict nowadays is not about who is the more important prophet, but rather about sovereignty over territory and the right to return to it. In this sense, relations between Jews and Muslims, which were once multifaceted, have become one-dimensional. They focus only on conflict. At the centre of this conflict are the two holiest places to Islam and Judaism in Israel and Palestine: the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Temple Mount.

Today, the most popular and prominent Muslim icon is the Dome of the Rock. This derives not only from its place in Islam, its history and architecture, but also because it is the symbol of the Palestinian national movement.

The Cave of the Patriarchs is not a place that unites Jews and Muslims, but rather a site where violent clashes take place regularly between Jewish settlers and Muslim worshippers from Hebron. As a result of actions by national-religious groups, the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount is no longer a symbol but has become the actual tangible core of the Israeli-Palestinian and Jewish-Muslim conflict.

Israel, citing security considerations, grants only limited access to Muslims wishing to enter the Haram al-Sharif, but it is also working to impose the Jewish narrative on the Holy Basin of the Old City. All this is happening as part of a greater conflict over sovereignty in Hebron and Jerusalem. There is a risk that the routine clashes at the Cave of the Patriarchs will spread to the Temple Mount.

No less important is the question of the return to the land. The Palestinian right of return is denied by Israel offhand. Yet, Israel upholds the principle of Jewish return to the Land of Israel. This is perceived in Israel as an exclusive right. The idea of Jewish return is what motivates the settlements in Hebron and galvanises Jewish groups to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.

The wheels of history cannot be reversed, and religion can no longer be separated from the conflict over territorial sovereignty and return. Islam and Judaism play an important role in defining the collective identity of Israelis and Palestinians. The challenge is how to transform religion from the fuel that feeds the conflict to a resource that can advance a peace agreement.

We, Jews in Israel, enjoy a superior position in relation to the Palestinians. Therefore we bear the onus for building an inclusive Judaism instead of the Judaism which claims exclusivity over the right of return and ownership over the land.

Inclusive Judaism prays at the Cave of the Patriarchs without harming its sacred status as a mosque for Muslims. Inclusive Judaism views the Wailing Wall as part of the Temple Mount and therefore recognises it as a sacred place in Islam because of Al-Borak’s affinity to al-Aqsa. Inclusive Judaism promotes sharing sovereignty when the site is an active sacred place: the Wailing Wall and the Haram al-Sharif have been holy to Jews and Muslims respectively for thousands of years. Inclusive Judaism claims that because we are Jews, nothing human is foreign to us. Therefore, even the right of return cannot be an exclusive right for Jews only, and we shall not make ourselves blind to the suffering we have caused and are still causing the Palestinians.

The founding of Israel has brought a Jewish revival, but at a price. Judaism, created in one concentrated territory and derived from a sense of being under siege by its neighbours, will inevitably be provincial, militant and self-centred. The challenge of Israeli-Judaism is to re-acquire the universal and human qualities which characterised it in exile, and to build not only an exclusive Judaism but an inclusive one as well.


* Dr. Menachem Klein teaches political science in Bar Ilan University, Israel, and is a board member of Be'tselem, the Geneva Initiative and Ir Amim.This article is part of a special series on freedom of religion in Israel and the Palestinian Authority and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 26 November 2009,
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Palestine must be a secular state
Palestine between religion and secularism
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Other articles in this series

Redefining the “Jewish” in the Jewish state by Marc Gopin
Overcoming religious prejudices through education: the experience of Bethlehem University by Fr. Jamal Khader
Freedom of religion for mutual survival by Muli Peleg
Palestine must be a secular state by Hussein Ibish
Palestine between religion and secularism by Aziz Abu Sarah