Source: Adventist News Network


From left: Eugene Hsu, an Adventist world church vice president; John Graz, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director; and Richard Elofer, president of the Adventist Church in Israel. Photo: courtesy Israel FieldHundreds of religious liberty proponents from Israel and the Palestinian Territories gathered in Jerusalem Sunday for the symbolic city's first festival of religious freedom.

The event generated a "climate of good understanding" among attendees that organizers hope will spur increased tolerance in the region, said John Graz, secretary-general for the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), which sponsors festivals worldwide to encourage freedoms of religion.

Hosting the event in a city holy to three major world faiths — Judaism, Islam and Christianity — was particularly significant, said Graz, who also directs the Seventh-day Adventist Church's department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL).

While Christians enjoy broad freedoms and are allowed to conduct outreach on a limited basis in largely Orthodox Jewish Israel, treatment of Muslims is a subject of international controversy, according to the Religious Freedom World Report, a PARL publication.

Conservative Jews, who embrace a non-fundamentalist interpretation of the Jewish faith, also face hurdles to religious freedom, said Rabbi Yaacov Lebeau, who spoke at the event. Because of the dominance of Orthodox Judaism, weddings and other ceremonies conducted in Conservative synagogues are not fully recognized, he said.

"It could be very easy to be influenced by extremist groups and fall into exclusivism," regional Adventist President Richard Elofer said. Given the "multi-cultural and multi-region" makeup of Israel, defending inclusive freedoms is a priority to ensure that doesn't happen, he added.

Some 300 religious liberty advocates from Jewish and Christian communities attended the event.


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