Rabbi Ron Kronish: 'The cycle of violence is growing worse and worse'

As the violence escalates in Jerusalem and the Holy Land I contacted Rabbi Ron Kronish a man of faith who has long worked for peace in this land, and asked how he reads the present situation and what, if any, hopes he has for an end to the violence and the establishment of peace.

Rabbi Kronish is an expert on Jewish politics, faith communities, the peace process and peacebuilding programs. Born in the United States, this peace advocate was educated at Brandeis University, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. He has lived in Jerusalem for 35 years, and in 1991 founded the Interreligious Coordinating Council (www.icci.org.il), Israel’s best known and most-respected interreligious organization, that brings together 75 Christian, Palestinian Muslim and Jewish institutions from all over Israel. He is founder and director of this organization, and he gave me the following interview.

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As a Rabbi in Jerusalem who has long worked for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what is your feeling after this terrible attack on the synagogue?

I feel terrible sadness. The cycle of violence is growing worse and worse. It is sad that young Palestinians are so desperate that they commit such unspeakable acts as killing innocent Jews at prayer in a synagogue. And, I am sad that so many Palestinians have been arrested and killed in rioting in recent weeks.

What is the feeling in the Jewish community in Jerusalem, and among the organizations to which you belong?

There is no such thing as "The Jewish Community.” The Jewish Community is very diverse. The right-wing Jews want more severe measures against Palestinians, and many of their leaders are inciting Jews to violence every day. The left-wing Jews want more efforts for peace and reconciliation, since they believe that only a peace agreement will bring security. And the large moderate middle don't know what to think. I belong to the category of peace-loving Jews who want a peace agreement. Unfortunately, we are in the minority right now.

How do you read the situation in Jerusalem and Israel after the attack on the synagogue? Is this going to be the spark that leads to even greater and more widespread violence in the Holy City and elsewhere in the Holy Land?

I hope not, but you never know. There are many efforts now going on at many levels to calm the situation. But Jerusalem is very tense, and we are preparing for more irrational terror attacks. There is more and more "security" in the city, but it cannot prevent individual terrorists from going crazy. I am afraid that things are spiraling out of control and the leadership, both Israeli and Palestinian, is not stepping up to the task of making diplomatic concessions that would finally relieve the tension all around. I must add that this terrorist attack is particularly troubling because of its symbolic significance. Here Jews were slaughtered at prayer, in their synagogue, wrapped in their prayer shawls. This was not as much a nationalistically motivated attack as it was religiously motivated. Religious zealotry and a religiously motivated war are the last things we want to see develop here.

The attack is but the latest in a series of killings that is spreading terror in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, it comes after the unresolved situation in Gaza, after the Israeli authorities have given the green light for more settlements and building in East Jerusalem, and renewed tensions and conflict related to the Temple Mount. Could you comment on the context in which all this is happening?

The context, as you indicate in your question, is very negative. Both sides are inciting to violence all the time. Both sides are in a perpetual state of fear and anger. This is why the conflict is more emotional now than rational, and no one sees a quick way out of it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promising another ‘hard’ response: Where is all this leading?

This is leading in the short term to more "terrorism" and "counter-terrorism.” Harsh responses will bring harsh reactions. This is a cyclical process, and unfortunately may take some time to work itself out, so that "normal" life can return.

What are religious leaders doing in this seemingly downward spiral to more and more violence, or are they simply impotent to do anything to stop the violence and the spread of hate?

Which "religious leaders"? The establishment religious leaders on both sides cooperate with their governments, and do not offer inspiring alternative options. There are very few "religious leaders" on either side who speak up for peace. This is unfortunate, and helps perpetuate the status quo. On the Israeli side, Rabbi Michael Melchior is a prominent exception to this rule. He led an interreligious solidarity visit to the synagogue where the massacre happened a few days ago, with leading Muslim and Christian religious leaders from all over Israel. This received about 30 seconds of attention on the evening news.

Who, besides you, is for peace today?

There are lots of small underfunded NGO's which still believe in peace today. My organization—The Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel / Religions for Peace, Israel—is one of them, but we are not the only one. I belong to a coalition called The Peace NGO Forum, which has 50 Israeli groups and approximately the same number of Palestinian groups. We still want peace. Much of the "silent majority" of Israel still wants peace but they don't see their current leaders doing much about it. It is wrong to thing that all Jews in Israel have moved to the extreme right, which dominates the headlines.

Is the two-state solution dead? Is a one state solution the only option now?

The two-state solution is not dead, but it is severely wounded. But it is still the only solution. The one-state solution is a non-starter. It is not a real option. It is just a statement of frustration with the slow pace of the peace process.

What do you see on the horizon in the short and medium terms? Another intifada?

It is hard to know. I don't think that the Palestinian government really wants another intifada. It is counterproductive. Both sides need to calm down the situation by ceasing to make inciteful speeches, by resisting the easy option of only blaming the other side all the time, and by returning to the diplomatic path to peace.

Do you see any hope for peace in the midst of this increasingly violent situation?

I believe that one must always keep the hope for peace alive. Who would have believed that Israel would have already made peace with Egypt and Jordan? And that we have already signed some agreements with the Palestinians? The hope for peace is always there. But getting there will take a lot of creativity and great leadership. We are not seeing much of either of these qualities lately.

What would you hope the international community, starting with the U.S., should do?

The international community must not give up the search for peace. It should offer major economic and diplomatic incentives to the Palestinian and Israeli governments to persuade them of the benefits of peace, as opposed to the lose-lose situation of prolonged violence and more wars.

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