Maybe a step forward demands not a little fantasy. Here are two super interesting pieces with and about Imam Abdullah Antepli on  Islam and Jews, Judaism, and Israel,  what’s ailing Islam today,  and the pivotal importance of Muslim-Jewish relations for both Islam and Judaism. You can read the interview here and the article here, both published on the same day online at the Times of Israel.
By way of background: Now chaplain at Duke University, Antepli has been at the forefront of Muslim initiatives to make sense of Jews, Judaism, Zionism, and the State of Israel. Most controversial is the Muslim Leadership Initiative which brings American Muslim leaders and opinion makers to the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem to study these things in an open and critical environment. One gets the sense reading Antepli that Muslims need Jewish allies as much as Jews need Muslim allies, particularly today at a moment of violent crisis, and that religion is key to any such alliance.
What Antepli calls the “inherent openness” in Islam to Judaism, particularly in relation to Israel, depends upon two factors. There is the argument here that the Holocaust contributes not much to Muslims understanding the connection between “mainstream Jews” and the State of Israel. (Antepli is relatively uninterested in talking with what he calls “marginal” Jews who will agree with whatever a Muslim happens to say against Israel and Zionism.) Mostly, because many Muslims either underestimate or deny the full scope of the Holocaust; but more importantly, because they don’t see what the Holocaust has to do with Palestine. What makes far more sense as Antepli understands that connection is the long historical and religious arc bonding Jews, Judaism and the Land of Israel and also the long tradition of tolerance for Jews and Judaism in Arab-Muslim history.
The second factor that would contribute to Muslims being able to make sense of Zionism as a cultural and political movement with religious components would be a recognition and coming to terms on the part of Jews with the shattering effect that the establishment of the State of Israel, the Palestinian Nakba,, and the 1967 Occupation has had on contemporary Muslim identity in the Middle East. Antepli’s point is definitely not to blame Israel for Islamic radicalization since 9/11 or the massive crisis now shaking large parts of the Arab-Muslim world. Indeed, his harshest words are directed against political Islam. Rather the more simple point would seem to be that from Jews Muslims need a just and agreed upon resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recognition of the rights and dignity of both parties to what is in Israel-Palestine an asymmetrical struggle marked by a gross imbalance of power.
The fantasy element in Antepli’s project reminds me of Lessing’s play Nathan the Wise in which the drama’s eponymous hero negotiates the shoals of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communal politics under the rule of Saladin in Jerusalem. What is so fragile about Antepli’s project is the larger threatening environment marked by religious radicalism and extremists. No doubt, Antepli cares more about traditional religion than did Lessing, a classical Enlightenment thinker. But like Nathan, Antepli takes the active first step to make a hostile and suspicious other into a friend. Antepli only appears to be naïve. It seems that he sees the potential for transformation as tied up in bonds of human sympathy, capacious moral imagination, and mutual recognition coupled with risk-taking and calculated self-interest. One bets that this kind of work is enough perhaps to lay now a decent foundation to some better structure for the future.
The only other question is why the Times of Israel, a centrist Zionist Anglophone news website, has published these two pieces about Antepli. Read with a suspicious and critical eye, it might be that in Antepli the editors have found a Muslim Uncle Tom who says exactly what mainstream Jews want to hear about Judaism, Zionism, and the State of Israel. But that assumes that Antepli is a Zionist, which he’s not. Read with more sympathy, the decision to publish these 2 pieces about Antepli is a move away from the abyss, reflecting the sense among mainstream Jewish opinion makers that the Jewish public sphere today and the future of Jewish life and Judaism depend upon nothing if not building strong Jewish-Muslim relations based on mutual recognition and respect.
Against the friend/enemy distinction that determines so much of the intermeshing of politics and religion today, Antepli would represent a kind of fantasy figure for mainstream liberal Jews. Staged in Jerusalem, the hope here is that fantasy is more than flimsy illusion or delusion, but represents the strong and capacious sense of the possible under which communities compact together instead of ripping apart as a response to radical crisis and conflict.