The Associated Press has reported that Saudi Arabia has invited an Israeli rabbi to an interfaith conference in Spain organized by the Saudi Muslim World League and to which global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi has also been invited. Many other well-known individuals have also been invited. According to the report:
In a bold move, Saudi Arabia has invited an Israeli rabbi to an interfaith conference in Spain, potentially the first step in wider contacts between the kingdom and Israel, the rabbi told The Associated Press on Thursday. Rabbi David Rosen said Saudi Arabia called the conference, set for Madrid from July 16-18, to bring world religions together to confront common challenges. He said he received an invitation from the World Muslim League, sponsored by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Rosen called it “a historic step for them.” On the other hand, he warned that it might be no more than a Saudi attempt to improve its image and that of Islam in the face of criticism over the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. and other instances of Islamic extremism. Israel and Saudi Arabia have no diplomatic relations. As guardian of Islam’s two holiest sites, Saudi Arabia has traditionally shunned any public contact with Israel or its representatives. Rosen said the invitation stemmed from the Saudi recognition that “the world needs to see Muslim initiatives for cooperation and for constructive engagement.” About 200 leaders have been invited to the Madrid gathering, including Islamic notables from Arab countries, as well as Jewish and Christian leaders from around the world. Among them are former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Franklin Graham, son of renowned U.S. evangelist Billy Graham. Others on the list obtained by the AP are Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa And Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic Church. Those from Arab nations are largely establishment figures from government-condoned institutions, including several prominent clerics representing Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Egypt’s Grand Sheik Mohammed Seyed Tantawi, head of Al-Azhar, the most prominent Sunni Muslim university, was among those invited, as was Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi, who has raised controversy with past statements allowing attacks on Americans in Iraq but has since moderated his stance. Several Shiite Muslims were also invited, including Iranian Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri, who has been an advocate of religious dialogue. It was not immediately known who among those invited had agreed to attend.
The report went on to describe Rabbi Rosen and his reasons for accepting the invitation:
Rosen, a former chief rabbi of Ireland who serves as head of interfaith relations for the American Jewish Committee, is a veteran of efforts to bring religious leaders together for talks. He was prominent in negotiations in the 1990s that resulted in Israel and the Vatican establishing diplomatic relations. On the conference list, he is not identified as an Israeli; rather, as an American Jewish Committee official. Interviewed by telephone from Tangiers, Morocco, where he is helping to set up a Jewish-Vatican-Moroccan conference, Rosen said the value of the Madrid conference depends on the goal of the Saudi organizers.If holding the meeting for the sake of publicity is the whole intention, Rosen said, “then I have no great expectations, and it will be another one-off event of very limited consequence.” However, even then it would not be a lost cause, he said, citing a passage from the Jewish Talmud, “He who does right for the wrong reason will eventually do right for the right reason.”…Rosen said the conference could be “the beginning of a process that is in our interest, not just in their interest, in the interest of Israel, the Jewish people and the free world.” He said there is more to be gained than lost in “constructive engagement with more insular elements in the Muslim world, not only liberal elements, (but) we’re not talking about something here that is of irreversible political consequence.”
Sheikh Qaradawi has in the past declined invitations to any events at which Israeli representatives were participating.
The Muslim World League was established in 1962 as a means for the propagation of Saudi “Wahabbi” Islam. Muslim Brothers played an important role in its founding and, to date, the League has been strongly associated with the Brotherhood.