MANAMA: American Rabbi Marc Schneier launched his interfaith efforts in 1989 in the hopes of strengthening understanding between African Americans and Jews. It was so successful, he said, that in 2008 he launched an initiative to strengthen interfaith understanding between Jews and Muslims, after being invited to the Gulf by Saudi Arabia's late King Abdullah.
President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and founding rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue, Schneier is close to the leaders of several Gulf nations, including King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain. who appointed him as a special adviser in December 2018. As such, he is part of Bahrain’s delegation at the Peace to Prosperity conference that is being held in Manama.
Despite the absence of leaders from the Palestinian and Israeli governments, Schneier believes the conference will create an economic momentum that will help the Palestinians and encourage both sides to pursue peace with the goal of a two-state solution.
Before the start of the conference, he said: “The fact that you have the representation of the Gulf states, the fact that you have global financial leaders coming together, it is a very powerful consortium to once and for all address this issue, understanding that the first step in the process must be economics. You need to bring to the Palestinian people economic health, economic sustainability, so that you can then address other challenging issues.”
More importantly, Schneier noted, the conference is significant because it is being led by the Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, rather than just being advocates on the sidelines of the peace process.
“The fact that the Gulf states are coming together with global financial leaders to look to empower the Palestinian people financially here in a Gulf nation, in Bahrain, is a remarkable achievement,” he said.
Crediting Saudi Arabia with leading this effort, Schneier said the initiative by the Gulf states recognizes that “addressing the economic plight of the Palestinians” will create opportunities for peace and also strengthen the economy of the Gulf itself.
“Here in the region, if you can create the synergy of Gulf states working with Israel and developing one of the most powerful economic regions in the world, it will be of great benefit to the Palestinian people,” he added. “With economic security and foundation, we can then look forward to a genuine, real and authentic peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Schneier was invited by King Hamad to the Royal Palace in Manama for the first time in 2011, where he launched an initiative, with the king’s blessing, to pursue the improvement of interfaith relations between Jews and Muslims and to use those improved relations to benefit the Palestinians.
“I believe that as a result of this conference there is going to be tremendous momentum generated,” he said. “I think the Palestinian people need to remember that the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, have their back. In no way will they compromise on the integrity, on the honor and on the dignity of the Palestinian people.”
The rabbi acknowledged that one of the factors currently bringing Israel closer to the Gulf states is Iran, but noted that it is not the only thing empowering the momentum.
“What does Saudi Arabia have in common with Israel?” he asked. “First, the existentialist threat coming from Iran. Second, the economic transformation that is now going on in the Kingdom. By 2030 there is a whole new economic vision that is being put forth by the crown prince. I have heard top Saudi officials say that with our wealth and resources and Israel’s brain trust in technology, together we can develop the most powerful economic region in the world.
“There is also a keen interest in strengthening bilateral relations between the Kingdom and the US, between the Kingdom and the Trump administration, and between the Kingdom and the US Congress. We have these three driving forces in 2019, and the recognition that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resolved to be able to focus on these primary concerns and issues.”
Schneier led the first Synagogue Mission to Bahrain in February 2018.
“It was the late King Abdullah who introduced me to the king of Bahrain, to the emir of Qatar and to the other royal families in the UAE and in Kuwait. Saudi Arabia played a very important role in terms of my own personal and professional journey to bring Muslims and Jews together,” he said, reinforcing his faith that the relations would be genuine on both sides.
Schneier is co-author, with Imam Shams Ali, of the book “Sons of Abraham,” the first such publication co-written by a rabbi and an imam. Former US President Bill Clinton wrote the book’s foreword and it was published by Random House.
The rabbi said he is not focused on politics but believes that an improved interfaith understanding between leaders and the people of the Gulf and Israel will help to create a fresh atmosphere that can make peace possible.
“The beauty of all this is that this initiative of focusing on economics comes from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and comes from the Kingdom of Bahrain, in terms of concern for the economic plight of the Palestinians,” he said. “Clearly the Trump administration acknowledges that the Gulf must be an active partner in this process, and by being an active partner only then can we see a resolution of this ongoing conflict.”
No other two faith communities have more in common than Jews and Muslims, Schneier said.
“We are both the children of Abraham. We share a common faith and we share a common fate. Our single destiny must strengthen our bonds of concern, compassion and caring for each other,” he added.