President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday met with a delegation of French imams and French and Belgian Muslim activists in Jerusalem.
The group was headed by Hassen Chalgoumi, an imam well-known in France for his involvement in interfaith initiatives. The delegation of 40 Muslim leaders was organized by the European Leadership Network (ELNET), an organization that seeks to strengthen Israeli-European ties.
Rivlin and the group discussed anti-Semitism and the value of interfaith dialogue, the president’s office said.
“Judaism has never been at war with Islam. Judaism and Islam are sister religions, and we should relate to each other in this way. The Jewish people suffered for many years from racism and hatred. Moderation — religious, nationalist and cultural — are the true way to reach the hearts of people. That is the right way to live,” Rivlin said.
Chalgoumi told Rivlin the group was praying for the president’s wife, Nechama, who died earlier this month, and spoke out against Islamic extremist groups.
“Recently in Europe, people are being killed just because they are Jews. At Hyper-Cacher, at the museum in Brussels — innocent people were killed just because they are Jewish. This delegation represents the hope, the need and the possibility to build bridges of trust,” Chalgoumi said.
“Religion itself is not the problem, rather political Islam that tries to create conflict between Jews and Muslims. States such as Iran, Qatar and Turkey who fund hatred through Hamas and Hezbollah. This is not religion, this is political Islam which we must fight against,” he said.
The group toured the northern West Bank Thursday on the invitation of settler leaders.
Chalghoumi said on the tour that support of boycotts of Israel ran against Quranic law, and that he hopes to encourage dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians so “no mother — not Israeli nor Palestinian — will cry” in the future.
He also criticized Palestinian rejection of an upcoming US-led peace conference in Bahrain. “I don’t think that’s right. You should always go and talk, sit around the same table. Even if you don’t agree — dialogue can save us.”
Sheikh Abu-Khalil Tamimi of Ramallah also met the group, saying “any problem can be solved with negotiations, dialogue and good treatment of each other. Disseminating hate is not the way… With God’s help the future will be better for us and for our children.”
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan said he was glad of the opportunity to meet the religious leaders: “We do not believe in peace on paper and with out-of-touch politicians but by creating mutual respect and relationships from the ground up.”
Chalghoumi is something of an outlier in Muslim religious discourse, and was notable for supporting France’s ban on the burqa, or full face-covering.