Ron Kronish is a Reform rabbi who was born in New York, grew up “in a suburb of Brooklyn called Miami Beach,” and graduated from Brandeis University and Harvard Graduate School of Education before moving to Israel 36 years ago.
After retiring in June as its founding director, he is now senior adviser of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, a department of Rabbis for Human Rights. He is the author, most recently, of Coexistence & Reconciliation in Israel: Voices for Interreligious Dialogue.
“I have been working for 25 years to bring people together to encounter one another and learn more about each other’s religions and cultures for the sake of being able to live together in peace,” he told NJ Jewish News in a Sept. 21 phone interview from his home in Jerusalem.
Kronish and Kadi Iyad Zahalka, an attorney who is head of the Muslim Shari’a Court in Jerusalem, will participate in “Voices for Interreligious Dialogue” on Sunday, Oct. 11, at Seton Hall University in South Orange.
Their joint appearance is the fifth Dr. Marcia Robbins Wilf Lecture of the university’s Sister Rose Thering Fund for Education in Jewish-Christian Studies.
NJJN: How do you go about pursuing your goal of peace?
Kronish: We have been working as an operation that promotes better understanding between the members of the three major religions of Israel — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — and the Palestinian and Jewish people. We would like there to be peace in the region. That is our dream. Peaceful coexistence is our goal. Dialogue, education, and action are our methods.
NJJN: How well has this been going lately?
Kronish: It was better when we started in the good old days of the 1990s when there was Oslo and Jordan and [diplomatic relations were established] with the Vatican. We don’t try to replace the politicians. In the days when the peace process was doing better, we were a parallel process.
NJJN: Do you see any current hope for dialogue that will lead to a two-state solution?
Kronish: Dialogue is always possible. It depends on with whom. The leaders aren’t dialoguing, but educators and religious leaders are talking all the time…. I don’t hold to the idea that because we are in a slump right now there will never be peace. We operate on the axiom that it is possible.
NJJN: Do you do a lot of dialoguing with Muslims?
Kronish: Yes, particularly with Muslims who are citizens of Israel.
NJJN: You are joining in a dialogue at Seton Hall with Kadi Iyad Zahalka, who is one of 11 Shari’a law judges in Israel. The word “Shari’a” is scary to a lot of American Jews and Christians. Should it be?
Kronish: It would be like asking an Orthodox Jew, “Should we be afraid of Halacha?” Certain Jewish extremist Halacha in the West Bank you should be afraid of, but most Orthodox Jews you don’t have to be afraid of. Shari’a is the Muslim parallel to Halacha. It is the way religious Muslims live their religious lives and has all kinds of interpretations, from the very moderate to the very extreme.
NJJN: A commentator on your blog wrote, “No follower of Muhammad can ever be a friend to a Jew, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or any other non-Muslim because Shari’a prohibits it.” How do you answer that?
Kronish: It is completely wrong. It is just a statement made by a completely ignorant person who read the internet. I know Muslims around the world who are active in dialogue with Jews in accord with many, many verses in the Koran.
NJJN: Do you feel Israeli Arabs face second-class citizenship?
Kronish: There are many Palestinian Arabs who are seeking to become part of Israeli society and so do suffer, but I would not label them second-class citizens. In the West Bank it is a different story. They are dealing with a different issue — the issue of Israeli occupation. But the two peoples are related. If you are a Palestinian living in Israel and things happen to your people in the West Bank and Gaza, that will spill over to the way you feel about it.
NJJN: You write about “dangerous Jewish terrorists.” How do you deal with the issue?
Kronish: I’ve been involved in the last three years in a coalition called “Tag Meir.” It means “Life Tag” as opposed to the “price tag” attacks on Palestinians by Jewish extremists. We are tackling problems of Jewish extremists. We need better law enforcement to bring people to trial. In the longer range there is education and public policy, lobbying the Knesset to take action. It’s a long haul.
NJJN: What would you like your audience to know when you appear at Seton Hall with Kadi Iyad Zahalka?
Kronish: I want them to meet an Israeli Arab Muslim who is proud of his religion and is able to espouse a view of moderation so that they don’t have to fear Shari’a law and will help them over Islamophobia if they have it. He is an intelligent, alive, Muslim citizen of Israel who can speak in a rational fashion so they will think not all Muslims are terrorists who are out to kill you.