Arab states are intensifying their normalization of ties with Israel under the cover of promoting religious and cultural tolerance.
Efforts are being led by Israel lobby groups, the Saudi government and some individuals.
American blogger Shloime Zionce, who has called Palestinians “the real aggressors,” visited Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud in his home in Riyadh last month.
While Zionce attempted to market his visit as a celebration of mutual respect among faiths, its real purpose was to conflate religious tolerance with normalizing Arab ties with Israel.
“Who would’ve believed three years ago that a Hasidic Jew and a Muslim from Saudi Arabia could be together, having a nice afternoon together?” Zionce says in a video he posted of the visit.
“It would’ve seemed impossible, but today we live in a crazy world and it’s totally possible.”
Zionce’s inability to imagine peaceful existence between Muslims and Jews not only reflects his ignorance of history, but takes as given the misconception that the violence arising from Israel’s belligerent occupation and colonization of Palestinian land is really rooted in religious strife.
Promoting the idea that religious strife is the root of conflict is a common tactic used by Israel propagandists.
One prominent effort that came to light several years ago, the Muslim Leadership Initiative, is run by a major contractor to the Israeli military. That organization is also bankrolled by anti-Muslim extremists.
Such initiatives aim to disrupt Palestine solidarity and equate Muslim-Jewish harmony with support for Israel.
In reality, rejection of ties with Israel among Arab publics is deeply rooted in solidarity with Palestinians.
One can hardly imagine Zionce “having a nice afternoon” with a Palestinian Muslim in the Gaza Strip, however, as he fantasized about turning the territory into “a bunch of brand new parking lots” last November.
Zionce was egging on the Israeli bombardment of Gaza which over two days killed 34 Palestinians, nearly half of them civilians, including eight children and three women.
No Israeli fatalities were reported as a result of retaliatory fire by the Islamic Jihad resistance group during the escalation, which Israel had started by assassinating an Islamic Jihad commander and his wife in their own home.
The visit’s real agenda was to promote normalization with Israel.
“Mohammed, I hope one day you and I will go together, will walk down the street in Riyadh and then we’ll take a direct flight to Tel Aviv,” Zionce says in the video.
“It is possible. Peace can be made,” Saud responds.
Israel’s Arabic-language propaganda Twitter account celebrated Zionce’s visit to Riyadh.
Zionce wrote a blog post claiming he spent time with a “Saudi prince” while in Riyadh, but doesn’t say who.
This was not Zionce’s first time in Saudi Arabia.
Saud is an outspoken Zionist and advocate of relations with Israel. He regularly tweets in support of Netanyahu.
He was one of six Arab bloggers and journalists who visited occupied Jerusalem last July at the invitation of Israel’s foreign ministry.
Saud was chased out by Palestinians and worshippers from the al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem when they realized he was a member of the delegation.
Can Israelis visit Saudi?
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia denied an Israeli government claim that Israeli passport holders would be permitted to visit the kingdom.
“Our policy remains the same,” Saudi foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan told CNN.
“We do not have relations with the state of Israel and Israeli passport holders cannot at this time visit the kingdom.”
Israel’s interior ministry announced late last month that Israeli citizens will be permitted to travel to the Gulf state.
Israelis can travel for up to 90 days to perform the umra and hajj pilgrimages in Mecca, as well as for business.
The latter would require an invitation by an official Saudi body, Israeli publication Walla reported.
The two countries have no formal ties, but years-old covert relations have been warming up, founded on a mutual enmity towards Iran.
Other Gulf states have similarly cozied up to Israel under Saudi patronage.
It is notable, however, that at least one Israeli was able to visit Saudi Arabia recently.
Journalist Henrique Cymerman was in Jeddah last month to report on the country’s new policy of opening its door to tourists.
Israel’s Arabic-language propaganda Twitter account boasted of Cymerman’s report for i24 News, but stated he is a dual citizen of another country.
Israeli media claims that Israelis have been discreetly visiting Saudi Arabia for several years.
“Most – although not all – hold passports from other countries, but it is clear to their Saudi hosts who they really are and where they really came from,” according to the Israeli publication Ynet.
Israel lobby effort
Meanwhile, the American Jewish Committee, a major Israel lobby group, launched an Arabic-language video series “on the Jewish people, Israel [and] anti-Semitism.”
AJC said the initiative is aimed at “strengthening Muslim-Jewish relations.”
During last month’s commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, the American Jewish Committee organized what it called a “historic” visit by a Muslim-Jewish delegation to the site of the German government death camp in Poland.
At the head of the delegation were Mecca-based cleric Mohammad bin Abdulkarim al-Issa and David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee.
Al-Issa’s organization, the Saudi Arabia-based Muslim World League, has signed an agreement to carry out joint activities with the Israel lobby group.
The agreement proclaims the “commitment of the two global institutions to further Muslim-Jewish understanding and cooperate against racism and extremism in all its forms.”
But while the American Jewish Committee portrays itself as promoting interreligious harmony, its main priority has been defending Israel at all costs, even if that means harming the fight against real anti-Jewish bigotry.
The AJC is a staunch defender of Israel’s racist policies against Palestinians.
Its core mission includes “defending Israel” and “defeating BDS” – the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.
As part of its global anti-Palestinian activities, the lobby group promotes a misleading definition of anti-Semitism that conflates criticism of Israel’s racist policies against Palestinians, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish bigotry, on the other.
Omar is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
Mayer is a leading figure in Israel’s international propaganda efforts.
He previously worked as the social media director for the Jewish Agency, an organization backed by the Israeli government that has been deeply involved in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the colonization of their land.
While he worked for the Jewish Agency in 2014, Mayer attended a rally in Jerusalem where anti-Palestinian extremists chanted “Death to the Arabs.”
The Times of Israel likened the AJC’s new Arabic-language propaganda initiative to “other similar efforts propagated by the Israeli government,” including COGAT, the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation, Israel’s foreign ministry and far-right lobby group StandWithUs.
- Shloime Zionce
- Mohammed Saud
- Muslim Leadership Initiative
- Islamic Jihad
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Faisal bin Farhan
- Henrique Cymerman
- i24 News
- American Jewish Committee
- Mohammad bin Abdulkarim al-Issa
- David Harris
- Muslim World League
- Avi Mayer
- Ilhan Omar
- Times of Israel
- Jewish Agency
- Arab normalization
- Saudi Arabia
- Gulf-Israel alliance against Iran