At Seville Parley, Rabbis and Imams Agree to Tackle Hatred

SEVILLE, Spain - Jewish and Muslim religious and political leaders are establishing an interfaith task force that will lead the struggle against hatred of Jews and Muslims. The proposal was introduced yesterday at the opening of the Second World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace, sponsored by Hommes de Parole, a Paris-based peace foundation.

The idea was formulated by the conference organizers in conjunction with Labor Party MK Rabbi Michael Melchior and Sheikh Imad al-Falouji, the chief imam of Gaza.

The second international conference of Jewish and Muslim clerics drew 72 rabbis and 72 imams from 34 countries.

At the opening ceremony yesterday, at one of Seville's ancient palaces, rabbis in black hats and coats sat alongside imams in gowns and conical hats, engaging in friendly conversation.

"I want to break the convention that religion creates problems," said Hommes de Parole founder Allain Michel. "Our object is to liberate religion from its abductors." Several conference participants noted yesterday that the forthright connection between rabbis and senior Muslim leaders takes on special significance in view of Hamas' rise to power in the Palestinian Authority.

The first World Congress of Imams and Rabbis took place last year in Brussels, Belgium. The current gathering in Seville includes for the first time a large group of Palestinian clerics from Gaza and the West Bank - about 20 were present. Sheikh Falouji, who heads the group, was among the founders of Hamas but withdrew from the organization and served as a Palestinian Authority minister.

The rabbinic delegation includes former chief rabbi Yona Metzger, whose speech at the opening ceremony recalled Spain's Golden Age, when relations between Judaism and Islam blossomed.

According to Michel, "it is actually the clerics, perceived by many as fiery and feeding extremism, who are capable of working for tolerance and promoting peace."