Jews and Saudi Arabia

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations – the umbrella organization of some 50 American Jewish groups – traveled to Saudi Arabia last month.

The delegation, headed by executive vice president Malcolm Hoenlein, newly installed CEO William Daroff, and chairman Arthur Stark, met a number of top Saudi officials. This was the first formal visit by an American Jewish organization since the American Jewish Congress visited the kingdom in 1993, during the diplomatic openings generated by the Oslo Accords.

The visit is a positive step, and the fact that the Saudis permitted publicizing a trip by a delegation of Jewish leaders known to have close ties with the governments of both the United States and Israel is even better.

Why? Because this adds another brick to the bridge that is slowly – oftentimes covertly – being built between Israel and Saudi Arabia. And that bridge is good for both countries.

In a perfect world, that is not the type of regime one would want to get close to. But this is not a perfect world. And in a highly imperfect Middle East threatened by Iran on one side, and radical Islamic fundamentalism on the other, being able to work with Saudi Arabia is very much in Israel’s interests – just as working with Jerusalem is very much in Riyadh’s interests.

Israel wants better and more open relations with the Saudis – warts and all. Visits such as that by the CoP help develop those relations.

Criticism of the organization for taking that trip – amid claims that there was no transparency, no disclosure of what was discussed, and that the Saudis are using the visit to promote their own interests – is unfounded.

Of course the Saudis are using the trip for their own interests, just as the CoP is using it for theirs. That’s how the big world works.

The CoP wants to use the trip to promote better ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and the Saudis and American Jews. There is nothing nefarious in that – it does not mean the group is endorsing the Saudi Arabian agenda. You can have contact with someone without that being interpreted as a bear hug.

And the Saudis, through visits such as these, are looking for allies in the US and in Israel.Nothing novel there, either.

The road to Washington, goes an old axiom, leads through Jerusalem. Often, though, it leads through American Jewish organizations that have good ties in both Jerusalem and Washington.

When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989 and Central and Eastern European countries came out from under the Soviet yoke and were looking for ways to develop good relations with the US, they often turned to the CoP.

In various capitals in Eastern and Central Europe, leaders sought, through the CoP, to reach out to American Jews and to dangle the possibility of improved ties with Israel, hoping that the organization – with its history of good relations and access to the White House – would then put in a good word on their behalf.

Via: The Jerusalem Post

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