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Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit: Israel Chief Rabbi Praises BJP Hardliner

Here’s one I missed earlier, from the Jerusalem Post in February:

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger and other leading rabbis from around the world signed a declaration Tuesday with leading Hindu leaders in New Delhi that denounces terrorism and violence…The resolution was signed during a summit organized by the World Council of Religious Leaders.

The “World Council of Religious Leaders” is a UN-affiliated body, and does not appear to be connected with the various “summits” of religious leaders which I have blogged in past months (here and here). Among those present was David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee, who said that

“Although, Muslim extremism was not singled out, it was at the forefront of many participants’ minds”.

The Hindu leaders stressed the monotheism of Hinduism, and according to Metzger

“They told me that both Judaism and Hinduism were the mothers from which all other religions suckled. But sometimes the offspring bite the breast that feeds them…The Hindu leaders told us that idolatry was not a part of Hindu faith but that many followers continued to harbor idolatrous practices”.

Or, in other words, many Hindus may in fact be polytheists, but they don’t count. Metzger also met some Muslim leaders, as reported by the Common Ground News Service:

At the same time a rare and significant meeting took place between the Jewish delegation, which included the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, and senior members of India’s Islamic community led by the President of the All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques, Moulana Jameel Ahmed Ilyasi.

Meanwhile, the Organiser gives some further details about Metzger’s Hindu friends – and this is where the alarm bells start going off:

Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger made a touching reference to the lasting contribution made by the BJP leader L.K. Advani in furthering the friendship and co-operation between India and Israel. The Chief Rabbi, the highly regarded Jewish pontiff, was lavish in his praise for India’s Leader of Opposition, as he was speaking at a dinner hosted at the Prithviraj Road residence of the BJP leader.

…Shri Bawa Jain, secretary general of World Council of Religious Leaders (WCORL), that organised the three-day Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit said the conference would not have been possible but for the help of the Leader of Opposition. He recalled the sterling leadership qualities of the BJP leader and his tireless endeavour towards unity of religions, interfaith dialogue and peace among faiths.

In a just-posted article, Mark Marqusee ponders the significance of this:

In the 1980s, Advani launched and led the “Rath yatra”, a provocative nation-wide tour aimed at mobilizing support for replacing the five hundred year old Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, north India, with a Ram Temple. The upshot was the violent demolition of the mosque in December 1992 by Hindu fanatics, an act of communal aggression which led to riots across the country and the loss of 2000 lives.

Advani had visited the besieged mosque on the very day of its demolition. Along with other leaders of the Hindu right, he was charged by police with making “inflammatory speeches to spread communal hatred”. The legal case against him, reopened in 2005, is still pending.

As Home Minister in the BJP-led government of 1998-2004, Advani was complicit in the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002 which took the lives of 2,500 Muslims and left at least 150,000 homeless.

Just last week, the BJP was in trouble over an election campaign CD which promoted anti-Muslim communalism (the transcript is here).

And, to return to the Organiser article, it seems that “interfaith dialogue and peace among faiths” means, as expected, a united front against a common enemy:

Shri Advani, in his brief welcome speech, emphasised the great Indian tradition of equal respect to all faiths. He said, the distortion of Indian secularism had reached a stage where, secularism has come to mean a state eschewing religion. The language of religion has a significant role in shaping the character of the state. It is not a state without religion, but a state that respects all religions, that is at the essence of secularism. The distortion and intolerance to religion have come because of the spell of Marxism on Indian political leadership, he said.

The full text of the Hindu-Jewish statement can be seen here; it includes a section against proselytising:

Neither seeks to proselytise, nor undermine or replace in any way the religious identities of other faith communities. They expect other faith communities to respect their religious identities and commitments, and condemn all activities that go against the sanctity of this mutual respect.

Marqusee wonders where this leaves the Bnei Menashe issue; this Indian tribe converted to Christianity many years ago, and from that developed a “Lost Tribe of Israel” and Judaic identity. A number of members have gone through formal conversions to Orthodox Judaism, and are now resident in Israel, although the practice has been suspended to avoid tensions with India. We might also add that Metzger’s predecessor, Meir Lau, converted 90 Peruvians to Judaism in a fast-track two-week process in 2002, in order to provide residents for a West Bank settlement.

Of course, this is actually also a “common front” issue: this time, against Christian missionaries. Some Jewish and Israeli groups have called for a ban on Christians seeking Jewish converts, putting pressure on the Israeli-Christian Zionist alliance. At the same time, India has introduced anti-conversion laws – originally at the instigation of the BJP, although more recently the Congress Party has jumped on the bandwagon.

(Hat tip: Jews Sans Frontieres)