Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Hilik Bar (Zionist Camp) met on Tuesday with some 50 Catholic and Jewish youngsters from all over the world who are attending the Emerging Leadership Conference in Jerusalem.

The meeting was also attended by the Knesset`s senior diplomatic adviser Oded Ben-Hur, Father Norbert Hofmann – Secretary of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews of the Holy See, and Martin Budd – Chairman of the Board of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), which is co-sponsoring the conference along with the Holy See`s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

MK Bar opened by saying that he has had the honor of meeting two popes, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

Deputy Knesset Speaker Bar to emerging Catholic, Jewish interfaith leaders: ”Israel is proud to be a country that grants full religious freedom and equality to all its citizens”

(From left: Father Norbert Hofmann, MK Hilik Bar and Oded Ben-Hur)

The Deputy Knesset Speaker told the emerging interfaith leaders that Israel is the only country where Jews are the majority. ”This is the Zionist idea. After our horrible experiences in Europe and in some Arab states, but mainly in Europe with the Holocaust, we decided that we need to take our destiny and lives into our own hands and build a nation state for the Jewish people – and this is the State of Israel,” MK Bar noted.

Israel, he said, is proud to grant its religious and ethnic minorities full religious freedom and equality. Bar explained that the Temple Mount in Jerusalem`s Old City is at times closed to Jews. ”This is how much we care about religious freedom,” he stated, while noting that Israeli Muslims, Christians and Druze are represented in the Knesset by several lawmakers and that Muslims and Druze have served as ministers.

”The minorities in Israel participate in every possible aspect of life here,” Bar said. ”They (members of religious minorities) serve as top generals in the army and work as senior-most doctors in hospitals and as top professors in the academic world. In every university – Hebrew University, Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University – you will find senior staff who are Bedouin, Druze, Muslim and Christian. And, of course, they are very much involved in the business and private sector.”

”So, there much to be proud of, and also a lot to improve on,” the Deputy Speaker added.

Addressing a question on Zionism by one of the emerging interfaith leaders, Bar said ”Zionism for me is treating everyone equally while preserving a Jewish majority and living according to the Jewish values.” Bar revealed that he plans to promote, along with a member of the coalition, legislation that would grant greater benefits to Israeli Christians.

Ben-Hur, formerly Israel`s Ambassador to the Holy See, noted that more people have died in religious wars than in natural disasters or other wars. ”There is an `abyss` of ignorance between the religions; a lack of willingness to know each other,” he said.

”One of the most dangerous, ferocious enemies of mankind is the rivalry between religions,” he said, adding that ”We need a religious figure to promote understanding between the religions. The head of the Catholic church should pave the way.”