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Rabbi Rosen to Newsmax: King Abdullah Deserves Credit for ‘Dramatic Step’

By    |   Wednesday, 28 November 2012 06:31 PM

A leading Israeli-American rabbi believes a new interreligious dialogue centre established by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia will help to combat religious extremism by raising the profile of moderate voices.

Speaking exclusively to Newsmax Nov. 28, Rabbi David Rosen said he believes the vision for the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Centre for Inter-religious and Inter-cultural Dialogue is sincere and that the centre is a step towards internal reform of Saudi society.

Rosen will be the only Jewish representative on its nine-member management board. The others consist of three Christians (Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican), three Muslims (two Shia, one Sunni), a Buddhist, and a Hindu. The centre will be overseen by a Saudi secretary general and an Austrian female deputy.

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“Part of the problem for all of us has been that we have not worked hard enough to strengthen the moderate voices,” said Rosen, an advisor on interreligious affairs to Israel's Chief Rabbinate.

“With regards to extremism and especially violent extremism, we have to take all the necessary security and intelligence steps to protect our society, [but] the real way to neutralize extremists is to give a higher profile, regard, respect and power to moderate voices,” he said. “I think that’s exactly what we’re doing here.”

The centre, inaugurated at a lavish event in Vienna’s Hofburg Palace on Monday, aims to act “as a hub, facilitating interreligious and intercultural dialogue and understanding” and to “enhance cooperation, respect for diversity, justice and peace.” It is founded by Saudi Arabia, Austria, and Spain, but will operate as an independent organization “free of political or economic influence.” The Holy See plays a “founding observer role.”

Rosen, who also serves as the international director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee, said he believes King Abdullah’s motives are threefold: to further a vision which brings religions together in cooperation around global issues; to affirm a positive leadership role of Saudi Arabia in the Muslim world (in contrast to Iran) and in the world at large; and to help bring internal reform to a country where Christians are forbidden to worship openly, or build churches.

The Saudis, he said, are keen that the Vatican participate in the centre because they are aware “they cannot change their society in a revolution overnight.” He said the hope is that by working together with mutual respect, reform will filter through to Saudis on the ground and the country will be able to “change the reality” from within.

The Holy See made it very clear at Monday’s inauguration that it sees the centre as helping to further reform in this area. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican’s head of interreligious dialogue, said it “will be the task of the centre” to ensure Christians and other religious minorities are “not deprived of the light and the resources that religion offers for the happiness of every human being.”

For some years, King Abdullah has been trying to loosen the grip of the Wahhabi extremists, and with some success. “He understands that if Saudi Arabia doesn’t change, the whole royal household is going to be pushed by the way, and so that internal change is a self-interested one,” said Rosen.

Some also speculate the Saudi monarch has chosen this route because he views interfaith dialogue as a “safe track” to achieving his country’s goals, away from the more vulnerable exposure of a political and diplomatic nature.

But for Rosen, this initiative has an over-arching and noble aim: to enlist the resources of religions to help bring peace, especially where religion is abused. “They [religions] need to be able to make a positive contribution,” he said, “and of course it’s my dream that we’ll be able to use this centre to make a contribution here in the Holy Land.”

He said his appointment wasn’t surprising since it had been in the works for more than two years. More significant, he said, was that he was the first rabbi ever to be invited to meet a Saudi monarch, two weeks ago, at the king’s palace in Morocco.

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“I was actually surprised [to be invited],” Rosen said. “He was there to thank us for our involvement but we really need to thank him for his courage, because his part in this mission has been criticized by some very arch conservative elements in his own society.”

“It’s not a simple step to include an Israeli rabbi on the board of management,” he added. “That’s quite dramatic, and on that, he deserves credit.”

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A leading Israeli-American rabbi believes a new interreligious dialogue centre established by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia will help to combat religious extremism by raising the profile of moderate voices.
Wednesday, 28 November 2012 06:31 PM
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