National

Japan's infrastructure aid to Mideast is helping to build hope, rabbi says

by Gary Tegler

KYOTO — Chief Rabbi David Rosen, considered one of the world’s leading experts in the field of interfaith dialogue, believes Japan, by providing infrastructure assistance, is playing a vital role in the Middle East despite the oft-leveled criticism its contributions are mainly financial and not military or spiritual in nature.

“In our neck of the woods, in the Middle East, we have people who are murdering themselves and murdering each other,” Rosen said in an interview with The Japan Times.

“They are doing so out of a false religious encouragement that they are going to go to a most wonderful, better place, something which they are told they are going to get credit and great blessings for.

“The main reason they are such easy fodder for such exploitation of religion is that they have nothing to live for, and everything to die for.

“Therefore, creating the infrastructure for jobs and hope within Palestinian society is an imperative for any kind of peaceful resolution in the Middle East. People shouldn’t see it as just a question of material donation. They should see it as a way of constructing hope.”

A high-ranking member of the American Jewish Committee and president of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, Rosen’s career has taken him around the world, with stays in South Africa and Ireland.

Born in England, he is currently based in Israel but divides much of his time between the U.S. and Rome, where he serves as a member of the delegation of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to the Holy See.

Now in Japan to attend the 8th World Assembly of Religions for Peace, Rosen’s address to the nearly 2,000 members and delegates was a high point of the conference. In explaining why religious conflicts so often seem insoluble, he pointed to what he considers a natural sociological and anthropological phenomenon.

“Because religion relates to our identity so profoundly, when our identities are wounded, when we feel hurt, traumatized, vulnerable or disrespected, we call on our religious traditions to give us that sense of stability, of meaning and purpose,” Rosen said.

“And very often when we do it out of a sense of wound, alienation or humiliation, we will seek that self-justification in a way that demonizes, disregards and stigmatizes the other.”

This is further compounded, Rosen said, by the attempts of secular governments to distance themselves from religion or religious leaders when attempting to conclude treaties or agreements, particularly as they pertain to the Middle East.

One example he noted was the September 1993 handshake between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn.

“There was no identifiable Muslim religious leader from Palestine in the audience and no identifiable Jewish religious leader from Israel on that lawn,” he noted.

“The implicit message was: Religious people keep away. The idea that you can keep religion out is a fallacy. If you seek to keep (religious leaders) out, all you are doing is conveying to the most extreme elements that this process is inimical to your interests. And therefore, tragically, amongst the most fervent religious elements in both communities there were those who destroyed the process or contributed to its destruction, believing that’s what God wanted them to do.”

Rosen said that despite the proliferation of information, that information more often than not fails to provide the full picture.

“Our political events are presented in sound bites so you don’t get any nuance or any understanding of the complexity or the background,” he explained. “Historical memory almost doesn’t exist. What’s very often done ‘in depth’ is in depth in comparison to the ridiculous superficiality of a news flash. But it’s not giving people from different perspectives the opportunity to give their sides.”