Saudi Arabia denies allowing Jews to work in country

Riyadh says new ‘Jewish’ checkbox for visas on Labor Ministry website not an indication of policy change

The tallest clock tower in the world at the Abraj al-Bait Towers overlooks the Grand Mosque and its expansion in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, October 16, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil, File)
The tallest clock tower in the world at the Abraj al-Bait Towers overlooks the Grand Mosque and its expansion in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, October 16, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil, File)

Saudi Arabia has denied a report that it would begin allowing Jews to work inside the Gulf kingdom.

In an official statement, the Saudi Labor Ministry denied a report last week in the Saudi al-Watan newspaper to the effect that non-Israeli Jews would be able to receive guest worker visas for the first time, the UK Middle East Eye reported Friday.

Last week’s report came after the Labor Ministry allowed foreign employees applying for a work visa to select Judaism as their religion; however, the statement of denial said that was not tantamount to allowing Jews to work within the kingdom.

Judaism, along with the selections of “Communism” and “no religion,” are among the 10 religions on the Labor Ministry’s website.

The initial Tuesday report by al-Watan stated that foreign workers with no religious affiliation would be blocked from working in the country.

“We bar entry [into Saudi Arabia] only to those with Israeli citizenship. Other than that, we are open to most nationalities and religions,” an unnamed Labor Ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying last week, adding that the policy was proof of the kingdom’s openness to other religions, according to a translation of the report by MEMRI — the Middle East Media Research Institute.

“For example, if a worker is a citizen of Yemen but practices Judaism, the [Saudi] Embassy [in Yemen] would not object to issuing him a work visa for the kingdom,” the source added.

Saudi Arabia, which has some of the most restrictive travel policies in the world, does not grant visas to Israelis or to those with Israeli visa stamps in their passports. And although the government has officially said that it does not discriminate against tourists based on religious affiliation, some would-be visitors have, in the past, reported having trouble in obtaining a visa after identifying as Jewish.

Visitors to the Gulf state in the 1970s reported having to sign affidavits swearing they were not Jewish in order to gain entry to the country.

Saudi Arabia, with a population of 31 million people, plays host to over nine million foreign workers. The workers, who mostly hail from the West, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, come from a variety of religious and professional backgrounds, ranging from doctors and engineers to day laborers and maids.

MEMRI noted that there is a divide in the Saudi religious establishment over the differing interpretations of a Hadith from the Koran that states: “Remove the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula.”

Saudi Arabia is the only Gulf state that still bans the establishment of houses of worship of religions other than Islam.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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