Lapid quoted bogus Saudi pro-Israel statement as fact

Saudi FM publicly decried ‘hatred for the Jewish state’ and blamed Hamas for Gaza war, Israel’s finance minister claimed. It never happened

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid address a counter-terrorism conference in Herzliya (screen capture: YouTube)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid address a counter-terrorism conference in Herzliya (screen capture: YouTube)

Finance Minister Yair Lapid this week quoted the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia as publicly making a staunchly pro-Israel statement, but that statement was never uttered, The Times of Israel has established.

Lapid, speaking at a counter-terrorism conference in Herzliya on Monday, quoted Prince Saud al-Faisal as calling for coexistence with Israel and denouncing “hatred for the Jewish state.” However, it turns out, Faisal never made such a statement, nor any statement remotely resembling it. In fact, during this summer’s Operation Protective Edge, Faisal came out strongly against Israel, slamming it as a “tyrant regional power” trying to eradicate the Palestinians.

Advocating normalization with the Arab world in his speech, Lapid on Monday reiterated his call for a regional conference on the future of Gaza to be attended by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and several Arab states, among them Saudi Arabia.

“A solution [to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] will include strict security arrangements as well as normalization and cooperation with the moderate Arab states including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States,” Lapid said at the World Summit on Counter-Terrorism.

“Anyone who thinks this vision is too ambitious is invited to read what the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Saud Al-Faisal, said in Jeddah on August 21,” he continued. “At the height of the fighting in Gaza he called for coexistence with Israel, condemned hatred for the Jewish state and placed the responsibility for the war on Hamas.”

But several academic experts and Israeli officials, including a veteran policy analyst who has been covering the Gulf region for decades, told The Times of Israel that the Saudi foreign minister had never made any such statement in public.

“The statement Lapid quoted never occurred,” an Israeli official said, insisting on anonymity lest he be seen as attacking the minister.

“I looked for this statement and couldn’t find anything. It never happened,” said Joseph Mann, an expert on Saudi Arabia at Bar-Ilan University.

A spokesperson for Lapid declined to comment for this report.

It was unclear what source the finance minister was basing himself on in describing Al-Faisal’s alleged pro-Israel affirmation, although on August 21 — the same date cited by Lapid — an article was published to that effect by an obscure website that appears to regularly fabricate reports on Israel and the Muslim world.

The report on the website AWD News was headlined “Saudi foreign minister: we must denounce our hatred toward Israel and begin normalize ties with Jewish nation.” In the piece, Faisal was quoted as saying at a conference of Islamic scholars in Jeddah that “the Middle East needs peace and coexistence more than ever and Saudi Arabia as a leading Islamic country is ready to make sacrifices in peace negations [sic].” According to the article, he stressed that Hamas “is the sole responsible [sic] for Palestinian calamity and they must brought [sic] before the law.”

The article with the ostensibly astonishing news was quoted by several media outlets, but apparently no one bothered to look into its credibility. Even a cursory check, however, reveals that AWD News (the acronym stands for “Another Western Dawn”) is a highly dubious website, based in Dubai, which publishes quirky conspiracy theories and news stories that sometimes have little in common with reality.

On June 6, for instance, the site ran a story headlined “Israelis orchestrated Ukraine’s unrest.” On August 30, an article quoted an Iraqi general as saying that “Israeli intelligence is preparing a plan which enables [the] ISIS terrorist group to capture Iraqi capital, Baghdad.” The next day, a story cited Chinese hackers claiming that the “Mossad has close ties with ISIS.”

AWD News appears particularly creative when it comes to Saudi-Israeli relations. On September 6, the site published an ostensible interview with Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the country’s current defense minister and deputy prime minister, in which he allegedly made some improbable statements.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, right, attends a ministerial meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to discuss developments in the war-battered Gaza Strip on August 12, 2014 in Jeddah. (photo credit: AFP/STR)
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, right, attends a ministerial meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to discuss developments in the war-battered Gaza Strip on August 12, 2014 in Jeddah. (photo credit: AFP/STR)

The prince was first quoted as offering his “condolences to all victims of this war, Palestinians and Israelis alike.” He then ostensibly went on to make this flabbergasting statement: “I think all Arabs must learn that futile and endless resistance against omnipotent and mighty IDF will only bring havoc, destruction and loss of lives for themselves… Hamas and Islamic Jihad are responsible for the catastrophe inflicted on Gaza. Therefore, I believe we must start to ponder over usefulness of animosity toward democratic Israeli government.”

The report is patently false, just like the one that Lapid (and other Israelis — the bogus report was shared widely on social media) apparently relied on in describing the Saudi foreign minister’s pro-Israel statements.

In Lapid’s defense it must be noted that he was correct in assessing that Saudi Arabia was less vocal in condemning Israel over Operation Protective Edge than during past such conflicts. Jerusalem and Riyadh have numerous mutual interests and it is widely assumed that the two countries cooperate on a wide range of issues, including the exchange of intelligence.

“The Saudis are pragmatists, and in recent years they have found that better ties with Israel can be beneficial to them,” said Mann, the Bar-Ilan expert. With Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Islamic State, the two countries have several enemies in common. “However, they will never acknowledge any ties with Israel publicly, in order not to endanger their own regime’s stability.”

The Saudis and the other Gulf states have in recent years understood that radical Islamism, and not Israel, is their main enemy, several Israeli officials concurred. But they are not yet ready to take that realization to the next level and publicly upgrade diplomatic ties or even make positive statements about Israel, they argued.

Indeed, the very Saudi foreign minister who, according to Lapid, blamed Hamas for this summer’s violence and condemned hatred for the Jewish state, has made several comments that leave no doubt as to where his allegiances lie, at least publicly.

“Israel wants to destroy and kill an entire population so that it can steal more land,” Faisal said on August 12 at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah. “Its goal is to eradicate the Palestinian presence even in its living and cultural expressions; seize territory; threaten Palestine as a whole; violate its mosques, churches and holy sites; and impose its hegemony on the region as a controlling, tyrant regional power… What the world has seen in the war on Gaza of tragic images and unprecedented brutality and mass destruction goes beyond all limits of humanity.”

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