The Religious Changes That Helped Bring about the New Era of Israeli-Arab Diplomatic Cooperation

April 5 2022

Last week, the senior diplomats of Morocco, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the U.S. gathered in the Sde Boker kibbutz in the Negev—where David Ben-Gurion spent his final years—to discuss regional cooperation. Aryeh Tepper examines how this summit, which would have been unimaginable a decade ago, results not only from diplomatic and strategic shifts but also from theological ones:

A serious struggle is being waged by Islamic scholars from Morocco to the Gulf to cultivate and to advance a tolerant form of Islam that respects non-Muslims and that recognizes minority rights based upon Islamic principles. The efforts of Islamic scholars must of course be seen within larger political contexts. In the Middle East, religion and politics are rarely separable. Additionally, even if one identifies with these scholars’ aims, it’s possible to wonder about the effectiveness of scholarly-religious pronouncements and documents, in general.

But, . . . if you had been following the various forms of Islamic reform and their interaction with global Jewish communities over the past few years, meetings often spear-headed by the American Sephardi Federation, then you weren’t terribly surprised when the kingdom of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates established, and the kingdom of Morocco restored and upgraded, diplomatic relations with the Jewish state in 2020.

In 2013 and 2014, Morocco and the UAE were already working to change the Islamic discourse in the Muslim world. And in Marrakesh, in 2016, over 300 Muslim scholars, activists, and politicians came together to articulate a tolerant vision of Islam that can function as a constructive, humane force in a modern state. The result, the “Marrakesh Declaration,” is grounded in the belief that tolerance is deeply rooted in the Muslim past.

It’s clear on which side the Jewish people stands in this battle. It was on display in Sde Boker.

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Read more at Sephardi Ideas Monthly

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel diplomacy, Moderate Islam, Morocco

Reforms to Israel’s Judiciary Must Be Carefully Calibrated

The central topic of debate in Israel now is the new coalition government’s proposed reforms of the nation’s judiciary and unwritten constitution. Peter Berkowitz agrees that reform is necessary, but that “the proper scope and pace of reform, however, are open to debate and must be carefully calibrated.”

In particular, Berkowitz argues,

to preserve political cohesiveness, substantial changes to the structure of the Israeli regime must earn support that extends beyond these partisan divisions.

In a deft analysis of the conservative spirit in Israel, bestselling author Micah Goodman warns in the Hebrew language newspaper Makor Rishon that unintended consequences flowing from the constitutional counterrevolution are likely to intensify political instability. When a center-left coalition returns to power, Goodman points out, it may well repeal through a simple majority vote the major changes Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition seeks to enact. Or it may use the legislature’s expanded powers, say, to ram through laws that impair the religious liberty of the ultra-Orthodox. Either way, in a torn nation, constitutional counterrevolution amplifies division.

Conservatives make a compelling case that balance must be restored to the separation of powers in Israel. A prudent concern for the need to harmonize Israel’s free, democratic, and Jewish character counsels deliberation in the pursuit of necessary constitutional reform.

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Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Judicial Reform