FrontPage Magazine Interview with Joseph Montville
The Front Page Magazine interview begins with Joseph Montville describing the work of interfaith dialogue and how he became interested in it, with a look back at his professional connections as a Foreign Service Officer to the Arab Israeli conflict. Following this, Montville offers several examples of genuine relations between Jews and Muslims. He says such walks through history are required to debunk common arguments that Muhammad was anti –Semitic. For example, Muslim militants might quote Sura 9:29 and Sura 2:65 as damning ‘unbelievers as pigs and apes.’ However, the Koran has multiple references to the Hebrew Bible, such as mentioning Jewish prophets.
At this point, Montville is asked to discuss Christendom’s relationship with the Jews of Europe in the Middle Ages and how it relates to current problems in the Middle East. He responds that anti-Semitism was a Christian invention that New Testament scholars trace to the Gospel of John. “Instead of references to the leaders or Temple priests in Jerusalem who felt threatened by Jesus’ condemnation of their corrupt behavior and his popularity with the common people, the authors of John simply used “the Jews” as a collective, all-purpose description of the people calling for Jesus’ death.”
You can see the effects of terminology on Christian relations with Jews in early European history. Montville continues, “Zionism was the nineteenth century response of European Jews to despair that they could ever be safe, accepted and respected by Christians. Hitler accelerated the determination of Zionists to settle in Palestine and establish a secure homeland.” He concludes that Christendom has an obligation to help the Jews of Israel and the Arabs of Palestine to be safe, accepted and mutually respected.
The interviewer then raises the question of Islam’s inherent anti-Semitism. Specifically in response to Al-Imran 67,which says: ‘Prophets taught Islam, not Judaism or Christianity.’ Montville says these words cannot be taken accurately to be a basis for the condemnation of present-day Jews and Christians. “Modern Muslim polemicists who cite At-Tawba 30 as God’s rejection of all Jews and all Christians as ‘deluded from the truth,’ are wrong and must be fought on this.”
The interview then asks how Christianity can be blamed for anti-Semitism when churches no longer teach that Jews killed Christ, and Christians are even encouraged to pray for Jews. The interviewer asserts here is no evidence that Muslims offer such special space for Jews in their own tradition. Along these same lines, Montville is said to be ignoring the impetus to anti-Semitism given by Qur’an 2:65-66, 5:59-60, 7:166, 9:30, etc.
For this, Montville cites one example, when Fez was the center of refuge for Jews after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. He goes on to say “All of us Jews, Christians and Muslims–who want a peaceful future for our children, need to study the original texts of Islam and their founding philosophy and deprive the extremists of their claims to religious legitimacy.” In conclusion, when asked for reasons to have hope for the children of Abraham, Montville mentions King Abdullah of Jordan and several other examples.