‘We must build the language to sustain our interfaith dialogue’

30 May 2024 – 22 Iyyar 5784

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner has spoken powerfully on the need to maintain interfaith relationships in the UK, despite the huge difficulties presented by events in Israel and Gaza

Speaking in the Thought for the Day slot, on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme, she talks of the friendships that have been fragmented and events cancelled because of the war.

Rabbi Laura (pictured with her Muslim interfaith partner Julie Siddiqi) then recognises the bravery of those organisations taking part in interfaith work – including many Progressive synagogues – and how we must build the language to speak to each other in ways that don’t exacerbate division and hatred.

You can listen here (from 1:49:25) or read the transcript below.

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner on Thought for the Day – Wednesday 29 May:

Images from Gaza this weekend are almost unbearable to see, let alone discuss with any coherence or clarity.

It’s hard not to import battles from there into relationships here and even more difficult to sustain space for dialogue – but it is possible.

When I lived in Jerusalem, I worked with West Bank Palestinians – Muslims and Christians – and Israeli Jews, facilitating conversations about the most painful, traumatic subjects that directly affected their lives and interdependent futures. The entities of Israel-Palestine are hyphenated because they’re existentially interdependent.

Unfortunately, this war’s also been destructive for some interfaith relations here. Some friendships are fragmented or severed, and events have been abandoned out of kindness, fear or fury.

But even whilst this war wages, I’m astounded by the bravery of a range of organisations – sporting, religious, transport, and health, who’ve asked my Muslim work partner and friend, and myself, to teach them how to have difficult conversations. In wartime, we must build language to agree, disagree and protest in ways that don’t exacerbate division and hatred.

We teach that it is possible to criticise Hamas or the Israeli government without holding Muslims or Jews here responsible for actions there.

We invite people to envisage what being pro-peace, rather than just pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, might look like.

We suggest conversational red lines – don’t compare the Israeli government or army or Hamas to the Nazis, for example. We consider whether British Muslims or Jews might be targeted for criticism, bias or hatred from ulterior motives or political opportunism.

I find the best, most effective word for difficult conversations is ‘some’ – some Jews, some Muslims, some people.

And you might be pleasantly surprised. When God first appears to Moses, it’s in the form of a burning bush. Moses must’ve wanted to flee. Instead, that fiery plant contained liberation for the Israelite slaves, and the message of the power of relationships, as God assures Moses – ‘don’t be afraid, I’ll be with you’.

We need to talk, with people with whom we disagree and who may infuriate us.

Next week I’m off to Bradford – and really looking forward to teaching in Muslim schools who contacted me near the beginning of the war. ‘Rabbi Laura’, they told me. ‘We practiced these conversations before the war, but now, even though it’s hard, it’s time to talk more.’

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