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Network, reporter defend visit, apologize if anyone offended

Israeli TV network scolded by Saudis, Israelis for defying Mecca ban on non-Muslims

Channel 13’s Gil Tamary attacked for disrespecting Islam; he says he sought ‘to showcase importance of Mecca, foster more religious tolerance,’ calls his report ‘great journalism’

Channel 13's Gil Tamary in Mecca, Saudi Arabia with the Grand Mosque in the background from footage broadcast on July 18, 2022. (Screen capture/ Channel 13)
Channel 13's Gil Tamary in Mecca, Saudi Arabia with the Grand Mosque in the background from footage broadcast on July 18, 2022. (Screen capture/ Channel 13)

Israel’s Channel 13 news is facing backlash after broadcasting footage of its reporter visiting the holy Muslim city of Mecca, defying a longtime ban by Saudi authorities on the entrance of all non-Muslims.

On Monday evening, the news outlet aired a TV report by its world news editor, Gil Tamary, who managed to enter the city and drive past some of its most notable sites, including the Grand Mosque that houses the cube-shaped Kaaba, the holiest shrine in Islam.

But while the channel referred to Tamary’s visit as “an important journalistic accomplishment,” others — including in Israel — have been less impressed, slamming Tamary and the channel for disrespecting Muslim tradition.

Tamary said Tuesday he deeply apologized for any offense caused, saying in a tweet that he had not intended to offend. The goal was to showcase the importance of Mecca and the beauty of the religion, he wrote, calling his visit “great journalism.”

Since the report aired, the Arabic hashtag “Jew in the Haram” — referring to the Grand Mosque — has been trending on Twitter, with many users voicing outrage.

Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud, who has visited Israel before and has expressed strong support for normalization with the Jewish state, decried the incident on Twitter.

“My dear friends in Israel, one of your reporters entered the holy Muslim city of Mecca and filmed without any shame. That’s like me entering a synagogue and reading the Torah. Shame on you Channel 13, you should be ashamed of disrespecting Islam like that,” Saud said in a Hebrew video.

Criticism of Tamary was not limited to Muslims, with many Jewish Israeli users sympathizing with Saud and demanding that Channel 13 be punished for the incident.

“I am ashamed of Tamary with all my heart. He does not represent me, he does not represent us. The Israeli people respect all religions and scorn anyone who would act like this. I hope he is punished with all severity,” a user identified as Rod Lior wrote in reply to Saud’s post.

“Mohammed, you are 100 percent correct. It’s absolutely disgusting. If you’ve read the reactions from Israelis to the tweets about it, you will see that the vast, vast majority of Israelis agree with you and want to see the reporter and the TV channel punished severely,” another user identifying as Israeli wrote.

Ofra Lax, a religious Jewish Israeli journalist, also slammed Tamary, pointing to his lack of sensitivity to religion.

“Respect of religion also begins in knowing and respecting your own religion, the religion of your own family, your people, your inner circle. Without that, you will never understand religious people. Without that, you will rudely stomp on other religions. Gil Tamary, what a disappointment,” she wrote.

Following the outrage, Channel 13 stood by its reporting but offered an apology “if anyone was offended.”

“The visit of our world news editor Gil Tamary to Mecca is an important journalistic accomplishment, which was not meant to offend Muslims,” the network said. “We apologize if anyone was offended. To clarify: journalistic curiosity is the very soul of the journalist profession. The principles of journalism are rooted in reaching any location and documenting events firsthand.

“These principles guided us in this journalistic mission as well and allowed many viewers an initial and almost direct glimpse into this important place. This follows the excitement surrounding the warming of ties with the Saudis. We believe that getting to know a place firsthand only contributes to religious acceptance and dialogue from a place seeking to study and understand the beliefs of others.”

 

Tamary tweeted Tuesday afternoon that his visit to Mecca “was not intended to offend Muslims, or any other person… The purpose of this entire endeavor was to showcase the importance of Mecca and the beauty of the religion,” and thus “foster more religious tolerance and inclusion.”

Tamary added: “Inquisitiveness is at the heart and center of journalism, and this type of first-hand journalistic encounter is what separates good journalism from great journalism.”

Several Israeli journalists traveled to Saudi Arabia last week to cover the visit of US President Joe Biden, but Tamary was apparently the only one who entered Mecca.

Saudi Arabia rejected recognition of the Jewish state in 1948 and maintains that policy in part due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That, however, started to change in recent years, with behind-the-scenes attempts to promote diplomatic and security cooperation in the face of the Iranian threat.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia announced it was opening its airspace to all civilian overflights, in a move that had widely been regarded as part of US-brokered efforts to advance normalization steps between Jerusalem and Riyadh. The announcement happened while Biden was visiting Israel, hours before he traveled to Jeddah and met Saudi leaders.

However, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said Saturday that Riyadh’s decision to open its airspace had “nothing to do with diplomatic ties with Israel” and was “not in any way a precursor to any further steps” toward normalization.

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