Over the past month, the Saudi press has featured a number of highly unusual articles harshly critical of the antisemitic discourse in Arab and Muslim society, and calling to avoid its generalizations regarding the Jews. The articles argued that Koranic passages against the Jews only applied to specific groups during specific time periods, and should not be applied to Jews in general. They added that blind hatred of Jews everywhere has prevented Arabs and Muslims from learning the lessons of Jewish experience and advancement.
It should be mentioned that these articles came against the backdrop of a heated debate in Saudi Arabia over the issue of normalizing relations with Israel, which erupted after a July 2016 visit to Israel by a Saudi delegation headed by Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Anwar Eshki, chairman of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies in Jeddah, and the publication of photos of the delegation with Israeli politicians. While Eshki claimed that he represented only himself and that "official Saudi elements did not know of the meeting in advance, as it was of a personal nature" and was the result of an invitation by the Palestinian Authority, he stressed that "the kingdom does not prevent anyone from holding such visits." He also did not rule out indirect Israeli-Saudi intelligence cooperation as part of efforts to combat terrorism.
The visit, which was seen as a Saudi step towards normalizing relations with Israel, sparked harsh criticism inside and outside the kingdom. Several hashtags attacking the visit were launched on social networks, including "Saudis Against Normalization." Likely as a response to the criticism, the Saudi Foreign Ministry distanced itself from Eshki, arguing that "people like Anwar Eshki do not represent us, have no ties to any governmental elements, and do not reflect the positions of the Saudi government."
However, despite this statement, and despite the Saudi regime's denial that the visit heralded normalization with Israel, the publication of Saudi articles attacking antisemitic discourse specifically at this time is no coincidence, and is likely meant to lay the groundwork for public acceptance in the country of normalized relations with Israel.
The following are excerpts from articles in the Saudi press attacking antisemitic discourse:
Anwar Eshki (center with striped tie) with Israeli Knesset members (Image: Haaretz.com, July 23, 2016)
Saudi Columnist Al-Qahtani: The Koranic Depiction Of Jews Does Not Apply To All Jews
Saudi columnist Siham Al-Qahtani rejected antisemitic generalizations regarding the nature of the Jews. She argued that Koranic descriptions of Jews - as killers of prophets, infidels, warmongers, and usurers - apply to a particular group that lived during a specific time period, and that the traditional view that blames disasters throughout history on Jewish plots stems from the helplessness of Arabs, who searched for scapegoats on whom to blame their own failures. Al-Qahtani added that she does believe in the existence of "a Jewish plot against Arabs," but stressed that such a plot could not have been realized without Arab ignorance. She wrote: "The [collective] memory of Arab culture continues to preserve the stereotypical image of Jews to this day. Some see this stereotype as the product of Koranic texts, [which depict the Jews] as killers of prophets, infidels, warmongers, and usurers. [However,] it is improper to blame the Koran for the creation of Jewish stereotypes. When the Koran depicts a certain people, it does so in accordance with [this people's] behavior and thought during a specific time period. This description is valid in the context of [those particular] circumstances and [that particular] behavior, and does not refer to a unique and permanent trait. Proof of this is [the fact] that, among the Jews [mentioned in the Koran], just as there are murderers and warmongers there are also prophets and righteous men. [Further proof is] the fact that Islam at the time permitted marriage between a Muslim man and a Jewish woman. If the 'Jewish race' possessed some unique and permanent flaw, then Islam would have banned such marriages in order to preserve the integrity and propriety of the Muslim man.
"As for [the question of] how circumstantial events became stereotypes, it is the result of the subjective assessment of ancient [Koranic] commentators who - whether intentionally or unintentionally - transformed those circumstances into unique and permanent traits, and thus established the stereotyped [perception of] the Jew in Arab memory. The influence of [these] early creators of religious philosophy was compounded by history, geography, and politics.
"In the [collective] memory of Arab cultural heritage, Jewish history is associated with a 'plot.' Behind every disaster in Arab history - from the days of 'the Saqifah Event' to the assassination of [Third Caliph] 'Uthman bin 'Affan, to the fall of Islamic caliphates, to the occupation of Palestine - there are hidden Jewish hands! In this way, Arab fundamentalism regarding Arab-Jewish relations taught us to link [Jews to plots].
"In Arab memory this formula has become a defensive trick, used [by the Arabs] to absolve themselves of blame, paint themselves as victims, and avoid accountability and punishment. I do not reject [out of hand] the notion of 'a Jewish plot against the Arabs,' because I believe that such a plot does exist, but such plots could not have been realized without the ignorance of Arabs, their improper attitude, and the division in their ranks. The chief enemy of Arabs is Arabs [themselves]."
Saudi Columnist Yasser Hijazi: We Must Abandon Hatred Of And Hostility Towards Jews
Columnist Yasser Hijazi penned two articles calling to abandon hatred of and hostility towards Jews in Arab cultural and institutional discourse, which paints the Jew as a satanic figure. He even called on Arabs to take an active role in the fight against "Judophobia": "Since my childhood, I - like other Arab children - was raised on hatred of and hostility towards Jews. The justification for this did not merely come down to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the claim that 'they occupied our land,' but rather that 'Jews are enemies of Arabs and of mankind; they possess all evil human traits, [and] they were created to be depraved, evil, lying, treacherous, deceiving, and to do anything that can harm humans in general, and Arab Muslims in particular'... Who is responsible for this generalization?... To what extent did this generalization rob the Arab mind of its ability to see things in a realistic perspective that does not blame [an entire] people for the sins of individuals or for historical episodes?...
"In school, on TV, in places where men and women congregate, and in Friday sermons, Jews were cursed and they and their descendants were maligned. Their religious description, according to human commentaries and interpretations, is 'those who have evoked [Allah's] anger.' We never considered this generalization or realized the seriousness of holding an entire people responsible for the sins of all mankind. If we give it some serious thought, we discover that this perception means that the ultimate salvation for one people comes at the expense of another [who serves as] a scapegoat. This is because sins are pinned on the Jews, who are the scapegoats for all humanity. [The Jews] are equated to Satan in Arab Muslim culture, because Satan is a metaphysical figure, which requires a corporeal representation by something or someone. Thus, in the Arab and Islamic perspective, the Jew is the natural representation of this supernatural being [Satan].
"Religious education has been persistent in its racism and hatred, particularly towards Judaism and Jews. Unfortunately, national education was not free of religious and ethnic racism either. [Thus, it argued that] the holy [Jewish] book is fake; their religion is fake; their scholars and rabbis are corrupt and preach evil and plots; their rich are usurers; their poor are treacherous spies; and their scientists are murderers who invent and create all manner of methods of extermination. [Strangely,] no one has exposed this Jewish plot apart from the Muslim Arabs, who are gripped by these fears... Did this hatred have a reason prior to the occupation of Palestine? Do these distortions stem from the strong victor oppressing the weak loser? Was it the hatred of Arab Muslims towards religious and ethnic minorities that fostered these [distortions]?
"According to the Arab-Islamic view... the Jews will remain in hell forever, while the other nations have a chance to be pardoned by Allah. How can this kind of education be seen as proper civilized education within the framework of the perceptions and terminology of the contemporary world? How can it be seen as civilized education, when the source of authority for its standards regarding [different] sciences, histories, and cultures is the interpretation of ancient religious texts?...
"We can certainly find Israelis and Jews, as well as Jewish institutions, who stand for Palestinian rights and against Israel... but on the other hand, we cannot find an Arab who absolves the Jews - who are a people... like any other people - of all the inhumanly negative titles that have been applied to them, and no people on earth can be accused of what the Jews are accused of. Who [among us] demands to end Judophobia...? Who openly demands to treat the Jews like all other people, some of whom are good and some bad? Is there any Arab Islamic institution that defends Jews - with all their various sects and ethnic backgrounds - and works to end incitement against them and their marginalization due to their image as human embodiments of Satan?
"Who will begin to accept the humane notion of absolving people and their institutions of responsibility for a religious-historic struggle? Who will begin to recognize the errors [that have been made] regarding the rights of the other? Who will eliminate marginalization, racism, and selfishness from earthly considerations?... The world will never accept or tolerate the marginalization of people. We must eradicate the remnants of racism and religious ethnic struggles embedded in our cultural, religious, and institutional discourse. This will be a step on the path towards coexistence with the world, and will close a massive loophole that is exploited by Western extremism [against us]. Our only response to this [extremism] should be to distance ourselves from [this discourse] and instead export an official pluralistic civilized discourse; one that accepts the world, both in its interpretation of texts and its actions on the ground."
Hijazi In Another Article: Changing Antisemitic Discourse Is A Step Towards Coexistence
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In another article, Hijazi wrote that eliminating the antisemitic discourse was a step towards drying up the sources of terrorism as well as Western arguments against Islam: "Just as we oppose the discourse of [Donald] Trump and Western and European racists like him, when they attribute terrorism to all Arab Muslims due to the actions of a minority of our people, thus we cannot attribute despicable traits to all members of [other] religions merely due to the existence of hostility and a struggle with some of them, or even with most of them, who deserve to face judgment before international criminal courts, such as the prime minister of Israel and his defense minister. Netanyahu does not represent Judaism... any more than [ISIS leader] Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi represents Islam...
"What do our curricula, satellite channels, and mosque pulpits say about the other/the Jew in general...? Do we even distinguish between a Jew and an Israeli?...
"We cannot struggle against a world that levels accusations against us, or change it, but we can change ourselves or at least begin to distance ourselves from these views that associate all followers of a [certain] religion with every [negative trait] that harms [their image] and their honor and humanity. The meaning [of this] is not normalization, softening [positions], or relinquishing negotiations to establish a Palestinian state within internationally-recognized borders... The two religions cannot resolve the conflict on the ground... The conflict is not between Islam and Judaism - even if our Israeli enemy seeks to present it as such - but rather between the [rightful] owners of the land and of the rights and occupiers and war criminals...
"Are we, or is any official Arab institution, able to abandon this generalizing discourse that besmirches the other...? [This should] start with eliminating any remnant of racism from any existing law, and from curricula, mosque sermons and pulpits, and [TV] channels... in order to eventually create a different discourse based on the principles of international relations and human rights... which will lead to a creative and professional discourse that speaks of the other/the Jew in a way that is devoid of racism; a way that respects his humanity and right to live without becoming a symbol of betrayal, evil, and deception.
"This is a step on the way to the coexistence we desire; a step [on the way] to drying out the sources of terrorism, if we so desire; a step on [the way] to restraining the European right and people like Trump, who feed their own racism with the racism spread by (popular) Arab and Islamic discourse under a religious guise, which the world no longer accepts or does not need to accept. The world will respect your culture if [this culture] is not hostile towards it."
Saudi Writer Ibrahim Al-Matroudi: We Should Benefit From The Jews' Experience And Successes
On July 21, 2016, in his column in the Al-Riyadh daily, Dr. Ibrahim Al-Matroudi called for overcoming the hostility towards the Jews and for benefiting from their experience and successes, even though they are enemies. He argued that, although it has been "isolated and distanced from life," the Jewish nation has "remained alive and alert, and has continued to build its future, and its sons have reached the top of the pyramid in science, philosophy, and economics." He wrote:
"...Hatred blinds and unbalances the individual. When he searches his memory, he finds only flaws and defects in his rival... Those who hate harvest bitter fruits, in the form of loss of the ability to learn from their rivals and to remember their virtues, and thus they lose man's most precious [asset] - [his] wisdom and [ability to] adapt to modern times, because anyone who does not benefit from his enemy in this world will ultimately be forced to leave it, to wallow on its margins, and to gaze nostalgically at the ruins of the past.
"The others whose experience I want to talk about, and whose modern history I want to look at, are the Jews... [Examining] our culture today, we find in it only curses and invective towards the Jews, reiteration of condemnation, and lists of bad things. I have never seen anyone talk about their experience in the new era, and their success in extricating themselves from a situation where the peoples harassed and persecuted them. I have never read about a Muslim urging us to change [our view of] the chronicles of this nation in the modern era and to get to know the methods that it has employed in order to escape its isolation, until it became, in the eyes of many of us, the nation that is leading the world through its institutions and forcing its will on it.
"Imagine that some of your people, once under your control, have, a few decades later, become world leaders. What would you think about that? Would you say, 'they are demons, they are devils' - or would you look at their way of life and examine their customs in order to learn how they got to where they are and became leaders, when they once lived as dhimmis, and [now they have] turned the nations of the world into their dhimmis, as many of us say?
"The warning by some American founding fathers about the Jews and letting them in to the U.S. did not stop them from building their fame there. We envied them for this, and we interpreted it without amazement - which made us forget the efforts that they put into [it]. Due to this poor attitude, we did not think of learning from them, looking and investigating the reasons [they achieved this]. We linguists settled for amazement at their revival of their nearly extinct Hebrew language. We are astounded at how they created the [modern Hebrew] language, and, even more, at how they acquired a status that made the world act according to [their] will, not according to ours.
"This is a nation that nearly went extinct because its language went extinct, but nevertheless [managed to] preserve its heritage, values, and ideals. There is a connection between the extinction of a language and extinction of a nation. Later it was revived, arousing a distant hope in the hearts of its people. Don't we need to learn something and look closely at [this nation's] modern history?"
The Jews Are More Astonishing Than The Japanese
Criticizing the Arabs who had gone as far as Japan to learn from that country's experience and capability for advancement - instead of looking at the Jews who are closer both geographically and culturally - Al-Matroudi continued: "The Jews in the modern era - not to mention in the past - have known harassment by all the countries of the world, that placed them in their own special neighborhoods [i.e. ghettoes]. The peoples strove to expel them, and to look for a permanent place for them to settle. This is a nation that was isolated and distanced from life, but that has remained alive and alert, and has continued to build its future, and its sons have reached the top of the pyramid in science, philosophy, and economics...
"If this is so, then why have the sons of this nation - even if they are our enemies - not been the subject of research [to investigate how they] extricated themselves from the dark tunnel where the world wanted them to remain? Why have we been preoccupied with the Japanese, while the Jews are closer to us? Their situation [was] like ours is now. It is more appropriate for us to look at their new history [than at the history of the Japanese], because they are our enemies, past and present...
"[The focus on the Japanese revival] has distanced us from the wonder of this Jewish nation, whose presence in the religious and cultural discourse frightens us. This is the nation that was considered our terrible enemy in the past and in the present, and therefore it is this [nation] that can arouse us from our slumber, for rivalry with what is near to you is top priority because its impact is greater. Can we open our eyes and see their path in this era?
"Can we be neutral and forget the enmity, so that we can benefit from the roadmap of the Jews, whose beginning was unfortunate but which ultimately turned [the Jews] into a nation that preoccupies us and frightens us all the time? One of the principles of wisdom is to be interested in the source of danger, and consider it important, so as to understand how this source of danger is created and how it became a disturbing nightmare. It will be possible to do this [with regard to the Jews] only if we show openness to the success of this nation, which, although a scattered minority, participated in shaping global public opinion until it became a model of capability to undermine every decision that does not strengthen its existence or its influence...
"The Jewish nation is more amazing and astonishing than the Japanese. It attained its fame by proper efforts, planning, and administration. The world today does not believe, as many of us like to, in the rule of religion, or in religion, but believes in its interests and in participating in shaping life. This is the logic of life that rules today, and the closer one clings to it, the more one's influence grows. The Jews' adherence to this logic made them succeed in building this fame that shocks us and arouses the envy of many of us. The world today does not give you anything unless you either pay for it or invest effort [to achieve it].
"The situation of the Jewish nation shames us more than [that of] any other nation. We ignore the fact that it lives well and advances, and that it participates in shaping global culture. Among ourselves, we talk about it, preoccupied with warning about its deeds, and about the evil and venom that it sows in global thought. And this is the habit of cowards, and their way of dealing with those who disagree with them everywhere...
"How have the Jews - when the world schemes against them - succeeded in extricating themselves from isolation and transforming themselves into a nation that [both] shames us the most and impacts us the most? How has this nation achieved what we cannot achieve, despite the great difference between us and them in everything - in numbers, in geographic area, and in national resources...[?]"
Unlike Arabs, Jews Understand The Logic And Spirit Of The Times
"The Jews are a competitive people, and life is a competition. The difference between us and them is not that the world loves their religion and hates ours, but rather [lies in] their understanding of the logic and spirit of the times versus our ignorance regarding the logic and spirit of the times - for we were led by a team of preachers who look at everything that occurs in the world through a religious prism and think of how to plot against it... Many preachers cannot comprehend that competition erupts between nations, not between religions.
"Our current situation will persist until a generation arises that acts like the other nations and benefits from the experience of others, rather than shies away from it; a generation where religion and faith do not prevent you from mingling with others and believing in them, and thinking positively about their ideas, visions, and theories; a generation that competes with other nations in their chief industry - the industry of life. Then many preachers will see other nations changing their view of us and will regret... the time they spent brainwashing people into thinking that those nations had a problem with our religion - a religion that is said to be the religion of human nature, mind, and logic..."
 Eshki said: "I do not believe we can have direct security cooperation, but it could be possible via cooperation with American security apparatuses." Shorouknews.com, July 26, 2016.
 The advisor of Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince condemned the visit on Twitter, writing that he expected both official and popular Saudi reactions against it. Twitter.com/Abdulkhaleq_UAE, July 22, 2016. The Palestinian factions protested the visit and called on Saudi Arabia to reject all forms of normalization with Israel. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), July 24, 2016. Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi also condemned the visit, arguing that Saudi Arabia did not need it. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), July 25, 2016. Official Saudi press rejected the claim that the visit was officially sanctioned by the regime, calling Eshki an "opportunist" that does not represent Saudi Arabia. See for example an article by 'Abdallah bin Yahya Al-Mu'allami in Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), August 8, 2016. Other articles stated that Saudi Arabia believes the struggle against Israel to be "critical" and "existential," and that normalization is impossible so long as the occupation continues. See for example Hamed Al-Mane' in Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), August 9, 2016.
 Al-Hayat (London), July 27, 2016.
 Referring to the debate over the succession of the Prophet Muhammad prior to the selection of Abu Bakr as Caliph.
 Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), July 23, 2016.
 This phrase appears in Koran 1:7, and is traditionally interpreted as a reference to the Jews.
 Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), July 30, 2016.
 Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), August 6, 2016.
 This apparently refers to an allegation that Benjamin Franklin made comments warning against Jewish immigration to the United States during a recess in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The Franklin document is a piece of Nazi propaganda from 1935 that appeared in the Nazi "Handbook on the Jewish Question"; for more on this see MEMRI Special Dispatch 175, "On Antisemitic Statements Attributed to America's Founding Fathers," January 12, 2001, http://www.memri.org/legacy/report/411.
 Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), July 21, 2016.