Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment in Saudi press

WASHINGTON — As Saudi Arabia's stock rises because of its Mideast peace initiative, concerns are being raised about the country's anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli rhetoric.

The Bush administration this week urged the Saudis and other Arab states that they should stop the anti-Semitic blood libels that are a common feature of the state-controlled media in the Arab world.

Questions are arising among U.S. Jewish leaders as to whether the White House should stop seeking Saudi counsel on the Middle East peace process because of anti-Semitism in the country's media.

Crown Prince Abdullah made headlines last month by suggesting in a New York Times article that the Arab world should normalize relations with Israel if it gave up all land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Despite efforts to be seen as aiding the peace process, however, Saudi Arabia has been tied to several anti-Semitic actions.

Earlier this month, a columnist in the Saudi newspaper Al Riyadh described Jews as "vampires" who use human blood to make Purim hamantaschen.

However, the Los Angeles Times reported this week that Turki al Sudairy, the Saudi editor of the privately owned newspaper, wrote an article Tuesday apologizing for the article, which appeared while he was on vacation. But observers noted that the original article appeared over two days and that the government, which constantly exerts its censorship control over all publications, did nothing to stop it.

The L.A. Times also reported that another article recently appeared in a government-owned newspaper stating that President Nixon was forced by a Jewish conspiracy to quit his presidency because he criticized "Jewish domination in American society."

Other articles in the Saudi press have said "the Zionist entity is evil and must be hated" and "the Jews are trying to take over the world," according to translations by the Middle East Media and Research Institute.

And, addressing the United Nations just days after Abdullah floated his trial balloon, the Saudi ambassador dashed Israeli hopes for conciliation by delivering a speech dripping with anti-Israel invective.

Barely mentioning Abdullah's initiative, Ambassador Fawzi bin Abdul Majeed Shobokshi told the U.N. Security Council that "Israel despises and flaunts all international regulations and resolutions and also defies the most fundamental humanitarian rights."

This week, in a Voice of America editorial, the U.S. government urged the Saudis to end their anti-Semitic rhetoric if they wanted to help the peace process.

"In the meantime, there is something that Saudi Arabia — and other Arab countries — could do right now to ease tensions in the Middle East," the editorial said. "They could stop newspapers and radio and television stations — especially those controlled by the state — from inciting hatred and violence against Jews."

Many American Jewish leaders have been hesitant to endorse the Saudi Arabian plan, noting that it gives little details about the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the division of Jerusalem. The rampant anti-Semitism in the Saudi media fuels questions about the country's motivation for seeking peace.

"Saudi sponsorship of terrorism and Saudi incitement is insight into how much" credit we can give the Saudi plan," one official with a Jewish organization said. "It's hard to take people seriously that they want an honest deal."

Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, said he believed the Bush administration was ignoring anti-Semitism in the Saudi press by treating them as interlocutors in the peace process.

"Saudi Arabia has made an offer they know Israel cannot accept, because these borders would be indefensible," Klein said. "It shows they are not serious."

He notes that even Friedman expressed doubts that Arab leaders would normalize relations with Israel.

But some Jewish leaders argue that Israel has proven its ability to work out peace deals with countries that are hostile to the Jewish people. Egypt and Israel have had what has been described as a "cold peace" for more than 20 years, even as wild anti-Semitic allegations flood the Egyptian press.

"Anti-Israel, anti-Jewish rhetoric coming out of Saudi Arabia is completely unacceptable, and there has to be an effort to stop it," said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now. "That doesn't mean efforts to combat anti-Semitism can't be done at the same time as a major diplomatic initiative from the Saudis is being pursued."