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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Talks, not tanks, will bring us peace

January 28, 2008

The chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger pictured whilst on a visit to
Shield house, London

Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
The Times
January 25, 2008

As Britain prepares to mark the seventh Holocaust Memorial Day this
weekend, with dozens of events organised around the country on the theme
of “Imagine ... remember, reflect, react”, Israel's Ashkenazi Chief
Rabbi, Yona Metzger, has declared that the lesson of the Holocaust
should be to prevent people from killing one another because they are of
different religions. But he gave warning that this ideal will be
difficult to achieve while there are extremist Muslims pursuing a goal
of a global Islamic society. “We have a problem with some groups of
Muslims,” he said. “The problem is not Christians as it was in the past.”

Rabbi Metzger, 54, who fought in Israel's 7th Armoured Tank Brigade and
became the country's youngest Chief Rabbi when he was appointed in 2003,
has visited Britain to honour the work of Young Magen David Adom, a UK
fundraising arm of Magen David Adom, Israel's only medical emergency and
blood bank service.

Rabbi Metzger, a charismatic and dynamic figure, has been at times a
controversial Chief Rabbi. He and his supporters have complained that
accusations of sexual harassment and exorbitant fees for weddings cannot
be substantiated and are no more than smear campaigns organised by his
enemies. Although his moral and ethical behaviour has been criticised in
a report by Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz, criminal charges of bribery
were dropped more than a year ago because of lack of evidence.

The rabbi made a point of personally thanking George Bush for his
country's military intervention in Iraq on the President's recent visit
to Israel. “I want to thank you for your support of Israel and in
particular for waging a war against Iraq,” Rabbi Metzger said to Mr
Bush, words which, according to The Jerusalem Post, warmed the
President's heart.

He is the first Israeli Chief Rabbi to be born within the Holy Land,
although he notes as an aside that his place of birth, Haifa, is not
regarded as one of the most religious cities in Israel.

Rather like the Chief Rabbi of the UK's Orthodox community, Dr Jonathan
Sacks, Rabbi Metzger has a knack for making friends outside his
community, and is proving that he can survive the criticism from within.

The US broadcasting giant CBS chose him as one of the 12 most
influential religious figures in the world in its December documentary
In God's Name. The others included the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr
Rowan Williams, and the Dalai Lama.

Whatever his difficulties within Israel, outside it he is starting to
show himself as a leader with the gift to transcend the national and
religious boundaries within which he was born. This places him on a par
with the Dalai Lama, in this respect at least, and it is the Dalai Lama
whom he has asked to head the new organisation he is trying to set up, a
religious United Nations, to be based in a country such as Italy or even
New York.

Although he is vague on precisely how it would operate, and in what way
it would be more than just another talking shop, he believes it is
precisely such an organisation that could help to prevent another
Holocaust, whether of Jewish people or of any ethnic or religious group.

During his Israel visit President Bush, who leaves office in January
next year, made it clear that he hoped for a peace deal between Israel
and the Palestinians within the next year. He called for an end “to the
Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza that began in 1967”. But as
Rabbi Metzger pointed out, the chances of Israel permitting a return to
the 1967 borders are minimal. The day before we spoke, in the Hendon
offices of Magen David Adom in northwest London, he had been in the
beleaguered southern Israel city of Sderot, half a mile from Gaza. On
that one day alone, 54 missiles fell. He delivered a half-hour speech,
during which time three bombs fell around him. Three-quarters of the
children in Sderot, he says, are suffering from trauma. As far as he is
concerned, there will be no giving back of half of Jerusalem.

But he is relentless in his efforts to promote peace in his own way.
“Our aim is to talk with tongue and not with tanks,” he says. That is
why he is promoting his concept of a “United Religions Nations”, as he
describes it. “Every country will send a religious ambassador and we
shall meet round the table and talk, even countries that do not have
diplomatic relations.”

Lucid, coherent and full of stories, Metzger personifies the “imagine,
remember, reflect” theme of Holocaust Memorial Day. His answer to the
problems facing Israel and the Palestinians is “to use the power of
language and not to use the physical power of guns and weapons”.

And maybe there is yet ground for hope. Because if there is one thing
this chief among Israel's chief religous leaders does well, it is to talk.
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