January 6, 2015 Special Dispatch No. 5921

Saudi Labor Ministry Denies Permitting Jews To Work In The Kingdom

January 6, 2015
Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 5921

On December 30, 2014, MEMRI reported on an article in the official Saudi daily Al-Watan that claimed that the Saudi authorities permitted people of all faiths, including Jews, to work in Saudi Arabia. The Al-Watan report was based on a form that appeared on the website of the Saudi Labor Ministry, which listed the permissible options for foreign workers' religions, including Zoroastrianism, Communism, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and no religion.

The Al-Watan report sparked an uproar in the kingdom, especially on social media, and many people posted tweets with the hashtag "Permitting the Import Of Jewish Workers" in which they protested the decision or made sarcastic remarks about it. The Saudi online magazine 'Ajel even reviewed articles in Israeli papers on the decision, and also mentioned that MEMRI had translated the Al-Watan report into English.[1]  

In light of the public outcry, the authorities hurried to deny the Al-Watan report. The Labor Ministry amended the form on its website, removing the word "Jewish," and clarified that its inclusion in the form had been a meaningless technicality and should not be interpreted to mean that employing Jews was allowed. The Al-Watan daily, for its part, accused the Labor Ministry of trying to deceive the public by its denial, and claimed to have a recording in which a senior ministry official confirmed its claims on the matter. The daily also published an opinion piece by its columnist Musa'ad Al-'Osaimi in which he condemned the calls against the employment of non-Muslims, and especially of Jews, in the kingdom.

The following is a review of the affair.

The form on the Labor Ministry's website, before the removal of the word "Jewish" (left), and after the removal of this word.

Saudi Labor Ministry: The Inclusion Of The Word 'Jewish' In The Ministry's Computerized System Does Not Mean That It Is Permissible To Bring Jews Into The Kingdom

As mentioned, the public outrage over the Al-Watan report forced the Labor Ministry to issue a clarification on the very same day (December 30). The ministry explained that the source of the mistake was the ministry's automated computer system, and that "the inclusion of this option does not necessarily mean that [applicants] would or would not be granted permission to import employees who are members of the Jewish faith." It clarified further that "this was the standard format of the 'religion' field in the electronic form for [tender] applicants on the website," and that the intention was "to include every option for indicating the [employee's] status," but that the actual procedure of bringing in workers was "subject to several systematic regulations which the ministry follows [in determining] which countries are permissible sources [of labor]..." Labor Minister 'Adel Faqih made similar remarks to the daily Al-Watan.[2]       

'Al-Watan': We Have A Senior Labor Ministry Official On Tape Confirming Our Report

In response to these denials, Al-Watan accused the Labor Ministry of trying to deceive the public, and said that a senior ministry official had confirmed its December 30 report, presenting a verbatim quote of his reply, which the paper claimed to have on tape. The paper said: "The argument sparked by the Al-Watan report regarding the permissibility of employing Jewish workers ended with the ministry indirectly blaming the [computerized] system, and at the same time removing the Jewish religion from the list of religions [on the form on its website]... The ministry tried to deceive the public [by claiming] that the inclusion of Judaism on this list... did not mean that it was [either] permissible or forbidden to bring in [Jewish workers]. But Al-Watan, which, since its exposure of this affair, has been careful to contact the ministry in order to understand its position, has a voice recording of a senior ministry official who asked to remain anonymous and who confirmed what Al-Watan reported yesterday, namely that employees of all religions could be brought into the kingdom, including adherents of the Jewish faith. Out of commitment to objectivity, professionalism and journalistic credibility, Al-Watan [hereby] presents the official's reply, as it was uttered: 'The Saudi regime has no problem maintaining contacts with members of other religions. I am not talking about Israelis but about [members of the Jewish] religion... The Foreign Ministry issues them visas regardless of their religion. We in the Saudi regime - I am not talking only about my own ministry - do not boycott any religion, but when it comes to Israeli nationals, it is forbidden [for them to enter the country]."  

Saudi Columnist: Islam Permits Importing Non-Muslim Workers To Saudi Arabia

In a December 31, 2014 opinion piece in Al-Watan, columnist Musa'ad Al-'Osaimi criticized the double standard of Saudis who complain about anti-Muslim discrimination in Europe while simultaneously seeking to ban non-Muslim workers, and particularly Jews, from Saudi Arabia. Al-'Asimi applauded the policy of allowing non-Muslims to work in the kingdom for a fixed period of time, and cited actions of the Prophet Muhammad and of the first four caliphs, as well as a fatwa by senior Saudi Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Salih Al 'Uthaymeen, as proof that this is permissible.[3]

Al-'Asimi wrote: "I asked a [Saudi] academic who is conversant in political affairs about the call made by a few extremists in Europe to expel the Muslims from there. Moreover, I reminded him of the famous statement by former French president Valery Giscard D'Estaing, who responded to the Turkish bid to join the European Union by saying that [the Union] was exclusively for Christians. The academic naturally responded that this was despicable racism, for the earth is Allah's and he bequeaths it to whomever he sees fit. Therefore, I hastened to ask him about his own tweet in which he expressed a desire that non-Muslims, and particularly Jews, be expelled from our county and banned from working or even visiting [here]. He was embarrassed and his only reply was that Islam's directives had to be observed.

"I, you and all of us want to implement the directives of Islam and we struggle to do so. But [taking] the directives that interest us and tailoring them to our dimensions, while rejecting others that do not correspond with our caprices - that is not our religion, it is a disaster. Yes, the limitation on wearing the hijab in France angered us greatly, and it pained us deeply to hear calls demanding to stop the construction of mosques in the West and to impose restrictions on Muslims [there], although the relevant governments oppose this [based] on the principle of religious freedom. But what hurts us more is that people interpret the Koran and the hadith as they like and according to their specific agendas.

"When a Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and even an atheist is present in our midst, living among us and partnering with us in work and in livelihood, it is unworthy that hostile and disaster-courting opinions such as 'ban them and expel them' should reach him. This, since these are peaceful and productive people, and what brought them [here] was our need and their need, not their political agenda or religious beliefs, and because this is an earthly [rather than a religious] matter and a temporary arrangement. In this matter we have a model to emulate, namely the biographies of the Prophet and of the and the first four caliphs who succeeded him in Al-Madina, who granted a treaty of protection to groups of Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians, in return for the payment of the jizya tax, and whoever violated this contract had no place amongst us. The same [principle of honoring contracts] applies to the modern world in Europe and the United States, and to us as well, and it is necessary at least to maintain a distance and abstain from violating this contract by adopting hostile and harmful political or religious agendas.

"As an example of the Prophet's conduct in his own community, let us take [the fact that] he allowed Jews to live in Khaybar and to engage in agriculture there, because the Companions were busy and could not do this work. When that great scholar, Ibn 'Uthaymeen, was asked whether it was permissible to employ workers from amongst the People of the Book - Christians and Jews - he answered: 'yes, if they come for purposes of business or work and do not live in the Arabian Peninsula permanently, there's nothing wrong with this.'

 "In sum, I call for us to stop issuing harmful new fatwas that have made us the most different [country] in the world, intellectually and in terms of our interaction with others, and which has caused radicals to appear among us who do not steer clear [even] of murder, which is prohibited by Allah. In fact, we must all come together to discuss the reasons for the increase of terror, its growing brutality and the [growing] extremism of its ideology. I believe that radical proposals rejecting the other [that are heard] among us, such as the demands to reject other religions, are the primary reason for [the increase of terror], because, like the academic I mentioned above, we make [these proposals] without understanding their implications and their impact on the younger generation, which turns them into a principle, a belief and a war against others." [4]

Extensive Reactions In The Twittersphere

As noted, the December 30, 2014 Al-Watan report on the employment of Jews in Saudi Arabia sparked an uproar on social media in the country, with one hashtag dedicated to "Permitting the Import Of Jewish Workers." The tweets (some serious in tone and some humorous or sarcastic) ranged from total opposition to employing Jews to claims that there was nothing wrong with it and even that some Saudis were "worse than the Jews." The following are selected tweets with the hashtag:

Munawwar Suleiman (@mnaw7) condemned the decision to allow Jews to work in Saudi Arabia, tweeting on December 29: "Didn't the Caliph 'Umar expel the Jews from the Arabian Peninsula? And you [the Saudi regime] today are bringing the Jews back by importing [workers]!!"

Another made an anti-Semitic remark: "Allah cursed them [the Jews], they are brothers of apes and pigs".

In contrast, Abdallah Muhammad Al-Faraj (@nashma2) tweeted on January 1, 2015: "The Jews belong to the 'People of the Book' [Koranic term for Jews and Christians], and (from a religious point of view) we love them better than the Hindu, the Buddhists, and the atheists..."

"The Liberal Abu Shlakh" tweeted: "Some of those bearing a national [i.e. Saudi] ID card are more hostile to us than the bearers of an Israeli passport..."

Talal bin Sa'ud tweeted in a similar vein: "They [the Jews] are more trustworthy than some Muslims."

Another tweeter who goes by the name "Malika ("Queen") saw nothing problematic with employing Jews and asked in English "where is the problem?"

There were also sarcastic responses, including tweets incorporating Hebrew words like "shalom". "Judicious Arab" tweeted: "We must learn the Hebrew language for everyday conversation: shalom haver sheli [Hello, my friend in Hebrew]."

Another sarcastic tweet said "Greetings to you, [Labor Minister 'Adel] Faqih, will the payment [to Jewish employees] be in shekels or rials!!?"

In reply to the last tweet, Khalid Al-Saif, wrote "Don't you understand, this is [the minister's] plan. We will bring all [the Jews here], we will empty Palestine of them, and we will return the Palestinians to [Palestine]. Genius idea. Smart, Sheikh Faqih, smart."



[1], December 31, 2014.

[2] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 31, 2014.

[3] Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Salih Al 'Uthaymeen (1929-2001) was a prominent Muslim religious scholar in the latter half of the 20th century and had considerable influence on the Salafi movement. He was a member of the Council of Senior Clerics (Saudi Arabia's supreme religious body), a lecturer at the shari'a faculty of the Imam Muhammad Ibn Sa'ud Islamic University in Al-Qassim province, and the imam and preacher at the  Grand Mosque in 'Unaizah.

[4] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 31, 2014.

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