Geopolitics is written all over Saudi religious soft power efforts. Nowhere more so than when it comes to Israel and the Jews because of the growing importance of security cooperation with the Jewish state and the influence of the Israel lobby in the United States, the partner most important but most problematic security in the kingdom.
In the last movement, Saudi Arabia has assured that this will be the first stop on Deborah Lipstadt’s first trip abroad as US special envoy to fight anti-Semitism.
“Lipstadt intends to build on the very important Abraham Accords to advance religious tolerance, improve relations in the region, and counter misunderstandings and mistrust,” the State Department said in a statement. . The department was referring to agreements by which the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan established diplomatic relations with Israel at the end of the administration of US President Donald J. Trump.
Ms Lipstadt said Saudi religious soft power diplomacy had created an atmosphere in which she could engage with government officials and civil society leaders, who in the kingdom are inevitably tied to the government, “normalizing the view of Jews and including Jewish history for their population, especially their younger population.
Saudi Arabia has had a particularly troubled attitude towards Jews, although an older generation of Saudis in areas near Yemen recall a Jewish presence in the first half of the 20th century.
Additionally, back when Israelis were not allowed to travel to most Arab countries, Saudi Arabia also adjusted its visa requirements to ban Jews.
European foreign ministers planning at the time to make official visits to the kingdom sometimes faced demands that Jewish journalists be removed from the group accompanying the official.
Some American Jews who listed Jewish as a religion on Saudi immigration forms would have them expelled with the word Jew replaced with the term Christian.
This began to change long before the rise of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Mr. Bin Salman accelerated the policy change. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia announced that Israeli businessmen would be allowed to enter the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia also allowed Jacob Yisrael Herzog, a US-born rabbi residing in Israel, visit the kingdom several times in an attempt to build a Jewish life publicly. Some Jewish critics have argued that his bombastic approach could backfire.
Moreover, in a slow and tedious process of two decades, Saudi Arabia has made significant progress in cleaning up its textbooks antisemitic content and other discriminatory and supremacist content.
To project Saudi Arabia as a moderate, forward-looking nation and improve the kingdom’s tarnished image, especially in the United States, Bin Salman met with American Jewish leaders. Many of these leaders are willing to give Saudi Arabia a pass on its human rights abuses and still weak record of religious tolerance to advance the cause of establishing diplomatic relations between the Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The crown prince has also transformed the Muslim World League, once a main vehicle for the Saudi government’s funding of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism around the world, into a public relations tool to spread Saudi religious tolerance.
League leader Mohammed al-Issa, a former Saudi justice minister, led a delegation of Muslim religious leaders on an unprecedented January 2020 visit to Auschwitz, one of the main extermination camps for Jews in Nazi Germany.
Earlier this month, he organized a Common Values Forum among Religious Followers in Riyadh. Participants included 47 Muslim scholars, 24 Christian leaders, 12 rabbis and 7 Hindu and Buddhist personalities.
The timing of Ms. Lipstadt’s visit is important. It comes weeks before a planned pilgrimage to Riyadh by President Joe Biden to address tensions in the strategic relationship between the two countries.
Tensions have arisen over the degree and reliability of US commitment to Gulf security, Saudi oil production policy in the wake of US and European sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine, Saudi technology cooperation with China and Mr. Biden’s belief that Mr. Bin Salman was responsible for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Moreover, the visits by Mr Biden and Ms Lipstadt come as hopes fade that talks in Vienna between world powers and Iran will succeed in reviving the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program. . Failure is likely to increase regional tension.
The specter of failure has prompted increased regional cooperation between Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Israel.
At the forefront of the confrontation with Iran, Israel unveiled its Newly Adopted Octopus Doctrine this month. The doctrine broadens Israel’s focus on Iran’s nuclear, missile and drone programs by increasingly attacking targets in Iran rather than primarily on battlefields like Syria.
Barbara Leaf, the US Under Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, put Ms Lipstadt’s visit into perspective when she told Congress last week that Mr Biden hoped to reach an agreement on a roadmap for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel during his visit to the Middle East this month. US officials admit it will be a long process rather than a love affair, as was the case between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Saudi Arabia has signaled for some time that it wants to formalize its expanding informal relations with Israel, but needs a cover to do so. The kingdom has underscored this in recent weeks as it seeks Israeli acquiescence to Egypt’s transfer to Saudi Arabia of sovereignty over two islands atop the Red Sea and prepares for a possible visit by the president. American Joe Biden.
“The Saudis want to meet us, talk and mix with us. They want to learn. I continued to receive inquiries. There is incredible potential for cooperation between the Saudi people and Saudi businesses and Israel,” said Israeli businessman Eyal Waldheim who visited the kingdom in May on a non-Israeli passport.