A media campaign in Saudi Arabia is seeking to combat anti-Semitism in the kingdom, apparently in an effort to prepare public opinion for deepened relations with decades-old enemy Israel.
Ehud Yaari, a senior analyst on Israel’s Channel 2 TV, on Friday read out examples of key sentences in recent articles by Saudi columnists and reporters demonstrating a shift in attitude towards the Jewish state and Jews in general.
Saham al-Kahtani, a famous Saudi columnist, recently wrote that describing Jews as the sons of apes and pigs, and other derogatory descriptions of Jews from the Quran, relates to the period in which Islam’s holiest book was written, and should not be seen to refer to all Jews today, the Israeli TV report said.
This interpretation of the Quran is not in line with previous interpretations, which take the phrase comparing Jews to animals quite literally.
Similarly, Yasser Hijazi, columnist in the influential paper Riyadh (published in the country’s capital), said that Arabs must “leave behind their hostility and hatred of Jews,” according to a translation of his comments published by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
Another columnist, Ibrahim el Matroudi, was quoted by Channel 2 as complaining that Saudis — and Arabs in general — have been “swearing at the Jews instead of drawing benefits from studying their success.”
And Ahmed Adnan, writing in the influential Saudi-owned pan-Arab website Al Arabiya, argued that the Saudis should speak to Israel in line with their own national interests, and without mediators.
The change in tone in Saudi rhetoric towards Israel comes a year after the signing of the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers — a deal that leaves Riyadh concerned over its position in the Middle East — and as Tehran’s proxies in Syria and Lebanon are holding their ground in the Syrian civil war.
In late July, a retired Saudi general visited Israel, heading a delegation of academics and businessmen seeking to encourage discussion of the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative.
The delegation led by Dr. Anwar Eshki reportedly met in Jerusalem with Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and held a meeting north of Jerusalem near Ramallah with several Knesset members from the opposition.
Such a visit by former general Eshki, who was once a top adviser to the Saudi government, is an extremely rare occurrence. Eshki said later the trip had not been coordinated with the royal household, but it was seen as highly unlikely that he would have come without the Saudi leadership’s tacit consent. Eshki had met with Gold several times previously.
The meetings with Gold and Mordechai reportedly did not take place at official Israeli government facilities, but rather at the King David Hotel in the heart of the Israeli capital.
The visitors also toured the West Bank city of Ramallah and met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as well as other Palestinian officials.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faisal share da platform at the Washington Institute with Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former national security adviser.