How to assess the utterances made by the Iranian president about Israel? What is the level of anti-Semitism in Russia? What is reaction of Israelis to the demarcation plan? Answers to these and other questions were given to Interfax-Religion observer Alexey Sosedov by Yona Metzger, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel.
- Rabbi Metzger, what is your attitude to the statement of the Iranian president that Israel should be wiped out of the world map?
- Certainly, I do not accept such utterances. I would expect from the leader of such a country as Iran some more responsibility. Such talk only intensifies international terrorism at a time when the whole world is united against terror. These utterances contradict Islam. When I meet with Islamic world leaders, I ask them: Do you believe we have one common father, Abraham? They answer: Yes, we believe it. And what our forefather can feel when one of his sons commits a terrorist action and kills himself in order to kill another? Therefore, if he really respects his own religion, he should also respect his father Abraham and not permit himself such statements.
- What is your assessment of the level of anti-Semitism in Russia?
- I know that Russian President Vladimir Putin does everything to prevent anti-Semitic acts. Extremists can be found everywhere, and they often choose precisely Jews as their victims. I hope that the government, society, journalists will come out against the hatred of Jews in a consolidated way. We should understand that every one of us is a human being, a Godís creation. And one human being begins to accuse another only because he confesses a different religion. Why?
We can be friends. The Catholic Church has rejected the idea that it was the Jews who killed Jesus. Vatican II adopted a resolution, Nostra Aitate, which rejected these accusations. And the Pope of Rome has invited me a month a half ago to take part together with him in the celebrations devoted to the anniversary of the agreement. What does it imply? It implies that a billion and a half of Christians living in various countries of the world are aware that we all want to live together, to believe in one God. And why should one hate somebody only because his faith is different from your own?
Effective struggle with anti-Semitism should be carried out through education. It is mentality that needs to be changed. When some time ago I met with Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, we discussed the establishment of a museum of the Jewish people in Russia. And he promised me that as soon as such a museum is built he will exert every effort to ensure that secondary school children and higher education students visit it.
The Jews can help not only themselves but also Russia as a whole. We urge not to push the Jews away, because they wish and can help. It is better to embrace than to push them away.
- How do you assess the implementation of the demarcation plan?
- I as Chief Rabbi of Israel and civil servant am not empowered to comment on questions provoking hot political discussion. I can only remark that we, Jews, have a religious law which obliges us to be concerned about the preservation of life. This commandment accounts for all the rest including the commandment to be on the land of Israel. Some say that if we yield to the Palestinians they will reduce their attacks on us. Others believe that if we give away an additional territory their missiles will come even closer to our country and the threat will grow. I would like to say that even those who were in favour of the demarcation cried when saw TV reports about how it is implemented.
But the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip by no means can be compared to the Holocaust. We are a democratic state and must observe the laws of the Knesset and the decisions of the government. Why was it still so painful? For centuries the Arabs themselves believed this land and these sands to be cursed. When the Jews came there they made that land blessed. They began to use new technologies in agriculture. People began coming from various countries in the world to learn these technologies.
The consequences of the withdrawal of settlements were heavy. It was a hard blow for the settlers. They said that if they were sure the sacrifice they made would lead to peace they would then feel more placid. But the situation in which we continue to be shelled after we left is especially unacceptable. The Jews are normally very good at business. A businessman knows that if he gives something to somebody he must receive something in return. So far we have not seen anything given in response. And this certainly aggravates the pain of those who were against the demarcation from the beginning. But I underline once again that we should observe the resolution of the parliament and government, otherwise we will lose face.
- Are you going to take part in the Interreligious Summit to take place next year in Russia?
- I see the idea to hold such a summit as positive. And I will try to find time and possibility to attend it. Such meetings promote mutual understanding between religious leaders, and, therefore, those who follow them. This is especially relevant when we speak about the need to overcome religious extremism.
- Ours is a large multi-ethnic country with various religious and cultural traditions. What do you think should be done to preserve the unity of such a country as ours?
- When a brilliant is discussed, its beauty, its special shine is determined by the fact that it is multi-faceted. Russia has a potential to be a brilliant in the crown of world nations. This is true for both human and natural potential. Each facet should underline its own advantages without pointing to the shortcomings of another. Each should display its shine. Take Israel, it is a young country which adopted people from the diaspora, from a great number of countries. And it has been and still is a difficult task for us to become one nation, since every one has brought in his own traditions and culture. But gradually we see various parts of the Jewish people becoming a single whole.