Egyptian clerics boycott interfaith meeting


A group of Egyptian clerics walked out of an interfaith meeting in Washington Oct. 2 where a Star of David was displayed among a group of banners representing various religious faiths.

The seven Egyptians, both Muslims and Christians, are in the country to participate in a program called “Interfaith Dialogue: Community Engagement,” sponsored by the State Department and administered by Meridian International Center.

Among those greeting the group at the Interfaith Conference of Greater Washington was Rabbi Doug Heifetz, representing the Washington Board of Rabbis.

“I was going to talk about why interfaith exchange is important to the Jewish community,” said Heifetz, rabbi of Oseh Shalom congregation in Laurel.

When the Egyptians entered the meeting room and saw the Star of David, one of 13 banners representing the members of the Interfaith Conference, they refused to participate. They demanded that the banner be taken down because they said it was “the symbol of the world Zionist movement,” Heifetz said.

The rabbi said he told the Egyptians, “I’m a friend. I’ve come to welcome you. But if they take this banner down, I can’t stay.”

Representatives of the interfaith conference offered to hold the meeting outside, where no symbols would be present, but the Egyptians rejected the suggestion. They reportedly returned to their hotel.

Heifetz said the Egyptians were not unanimous in the decision to boycott the meeting, and that several of the clerics were “very apologetic” as they left.

A State Department spokesperson said the group is at the beginning of its trip, which is designed to “broaden their horizons. By the end of this program, we will have broader perspectives all the way around.”

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Washington, said his organization has a longstanding relationship with the Interfaith Conference.

“I’m very proud that the IFC and Rabbi Heifetz stood up and did not give in to this embarrassing behavior,” Halber said.

According to a State Department email, made available to WJW, the Egyptian group will be visiting Tulsa, Los Angeles and Manchester, N.H., after leaving Washington on Oct. 6.

[email protected] Twitter: @davidholzel

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