For the best part of a century, ever since the Jews expressed a desire for a state and declared one, it was taken as a given that an Arab or Muslim, be it a state or an individual, had hostile views and feelings towards the Jewish State and Jews in general.
Although this trend is unfortunately still generally true, there does appear to be a few cracks and changes of attitude.
This article seeks to look at a few of the reasons for this change in attitude and will give an understanding of them.
A few months ago, a Saudi delegation led by Maj.Gen. (ret.) Anwar Eshki, chairman of Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies in Jeddah, visited Israel. He was photographed with Israeli politicians. These pictures sparked a debate within the Saudi kingdom and Eshki was harshly criticised for his visit by the Saudi Foreign Ministry who declared, “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.” (Al-Hayat (London), July 27, 2016.)
Despite the harsh public backlash at such an attempt to normalise relations with Israel, many Saudi newspapers ran articles criticising the anti-Semitic views held by many in the Muslim world. Saudi columnist Siham Al-Qahtani wrote that the Koranic depiction of the Jews applied only to certain Jews at certain times and cannot be applied to all Jews; “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.” (Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), July 23, 2016.)
Yasser Hijazi wrote in Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), July 30, 2016, that hatred of the Jews must be abandoned; “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 wrote in a different article “…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…” (Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), August 6, 2016)
In a similar vein, in an April 9, 2016 article in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, Kuwaiti media personality Yousuf ‘Abd Al-Karim Al-Zinkawi called on all Arab and Muslim states to recognize Israel, openly and without delay, and to stop calling it “the Zionist Entity” or “the Israeli occupation.” He argued that by sitting alongside Israel in UN institutions these states already effectively recognize it, and they should take a lesson from countries like Qatar and Oman that take a pragmatic approach to Israel and maintain ties with it openly. He wondered why certain Arab and Muslim countries take a more hardline approach to Israel than the Palestinian Authority itself, which does maintain ties with it.
Particularly in Kuwait there are calls for normalisation of relations with Israel. Saleh Al-Shayeji, journalist for Al-Anba, The Kuwaiti Government Daily, writes; “Whose enemy is Israel? Is it the enemy of all Arab countries? The Palestinians have a right to be hostile to Israel, for they believe it has occupied some of their lands. By their lights, they are justified in their hostility, and we support, help and assist them as much as we can, [but] that is all the Arab countries are required to do – nothing more…
“Who is our real enemy? Do all the Arab states have the same enemy? Or does each country or group of countries have a [different] enemy, who is actually an ally or even a close friend of some other [Arab] country?
“The first step towards Arab reform is discarding the idea of pan-Arabism or of [a single Arab] nation, which reality has proven false and invalid, and the indications of its invalidity are [much] more numerous than the illusionary [proof] of its validity… Let’s take our own country, Kuwait, as an example. Is Israel an enemy [of Kuwait]? Has it [ever] invaded it, fought it, or killed its citizens? The answer to all these questions is no!! So why does Kuwait regard Israel as an enemy, while it regards Iraq – which did invade and occupy it – as a friend, an ally, a [good] neighbour and a sister!? I don’t mean [to say] that Kuwait [should have] remained an enemy of Iraq. On the contrary, it made the right decision [in reconciling with it], because enmity is not a permanent [reality] but a dynamic one, especially in the world of politics, [where] yesterday’s enemy is today’s friend, and today’s friend may be tomorrow’s enemy. That is a fact and no illusion of mine.
“In sum, Israel is not the Arab’s enemy, and the Arabs must all free themselves of the pan-Arab complex and take their own independent steps and decisions, far from the delusion of the single [pan-Arab] nation!!”
In another Kuwaiti government daily Abdallah Al-Hadlaq writes; “To all those who think the Persian state (Iran), and the regime of the Rule of the Imprudent [namely] the dictatorial fascist Persian regime which controls it, is a friendly country, whereas Israel is an enemy country, I say that a prudent enemy is better than an imprudent one. The state of Israel and its various governments have waged more than five wars with the Arabs, yet never in the course of these wars did Israel think to use its nuclear weapons against its Arab enemies. Conversely, if the Persian state, with its stupid, rash and fascist regime that hides behind a religious guise, ever develops nuclear weapons, it will not hesitate to use nuclear bombs against the Arab Gulf states in the first conflict that arises.
“Israel is a friendly state that does not endanger us in the Arab Gulf region and we have nothing to fear from it. The one who threatens us, carries out acts of terror and destruction against us, and aspires to occupy us is the arrogant Persian enemy, represented by the regime of the Persian state (Iran), which is the incubator and supportive environment for global terror.”
Furthermore, on the website www.Huffpostarabi.com Tareq Baddar, a Kuwaiti writer and film producer wrote an article on May 24, 2016 calling for an end to the incitement against Jews in mosques.
Often, a running theme in these articles is a call for an acknowledgment of the real enemy, Iran, as opposed to Israel. In the words of Muhammad Aal Al-Sheikh ; “The Persian enemy is Enemy No. 1, and the Zionist enemy is [only] Enemy No. 2. We must present this truth directly, flattering no one, to all those [who try] to extort us with the tale that Israel is the Arabs’ Enemy No. 1 and that Iran supports us on the Palestinian issue. This tale could still be true vis-à-vis the Arabs to the north [of the Arabian Peninsula], and in Egypt, because Israel threatens [Egypt] and its security and stability. But as for the [Saudi] kingdom and the Gulf states, it is Iran, not Israel, that tops the list of the enemies and the dangers that lie in wait for us, face us and threaten us. Iran is exploiting the issue of the Palestinians and the liberation [of Palestine] as a pretext for infiltrating deep into the Arab [world], shredding its Arab fabric, and dragging Arab [society] into supporting its expansionary plan…”
“Moreover, let me say this bluntly: Any citizen of any of the five Gulf states who prioritizes the Israeli danger over that of the Persian enemy, whether from a pan-Arab or an Islamist perspective, is sacrificing his homeland, its security, its stability and perhaps its very existence for his neighbor’s cause. By any national standard, this is absolute treason.
“This issue has to do with our very existence, and there is no bargaining over it or dismissing or neglecting it. It is a matter on which the Gulf residents, whether Sunni or Shi’ite, agree equally…”
These words sum up a major reason, if not the most predominant reason, for Gulf States relations thawing towards Israel; Iran is a major threat to the Arab-Sunni world as they seek to export globally, but to the Sunni world first, Shiite Islam. Sunni Islam’s bastion is in the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, and they are neighbours with Iran, acting as a buffer to the rest of the world, a challenge and competition to Iran’s Shiite Islam. In order to spread Shiite’ism, these countries must be neutralised and preferably converted to Shiite countries. This means Iran must be militarily superior, strengthening and spreading Shiite Islam within these countries. The Gulf States know this and are acutely aware and alarmed that Iran developing a nuclear bomb spells the end of their countries. Israel is the strongest power in the region and has the capability of challenging Iran’s growing might and is even able to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. Therefore, naturally Israel would be the ones to turn to and to start warming up to, in order to counter this threat. This is particularly evident when we take into account that Israel was the one to daringly face Iraq, totally detroying their nuclear program in 1981 without any casualties. The dictum of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is no truer here than ever before, as it has made deadly sworn enemies into collaborative friends. The Gulf States may not have wanted to make peace with Israel but perhaps now they will out of necessity.
Adding to this is the relative side-lining of the Palestinian issue. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is collapsing and does not even have full control of its own city headquarters. Gun battles on the streets of Nablus occur often between the PA security forces and other militant factions, such as Fatah. There are parts of the city where PA security forces cannot enter or risk being fired upon by those who control those areas. This is happening in many parts of the West Bank, where many areas are now independent of the PA and are run day to day by the tribal leaders, such as the Hebron region. Some areas have descended into absolute anarchy and are ruled by armed gangs and factions. The Palestinian elections have been postponed by Mahmud Abbas as he fears losing to his rivals.
The “Arab Quartet”, made up of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, have held up their monthly donation to the Palestinian Authority of $20 million for seven months. This amounts to a third of the P.A. budget. Although there are claims that this is merely a logistical matter, many are reading between the lines that it is an attempt to force Abbas to make peace as they dictate. They have reached out to Fatah as they are also concerned with Abbas recent visit to Iran and want to ensure that Abbas does not get too close. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) support for the Palestinians is now more tactical than anything else and the GCC business leaders have been tacitly expressing their frustration for a while regarding the corruption within the Palestinian Authority.
Others are also beginning to get frustrated and this was made evident when a Saudi editorial took the Palestinian Authority to task for not accepting Netanyahu’s offer to Abbas to speak at the Kenneset.
All of the above has made the Palestinian issue relatively secondary to Iran as they are increasingly viewed by many as a burden, and are unable to behave in a befitting manner.
Another reason that has caused a shift in opinion towards Israel is the Arab Spring.
Hopes of democracy and liberalism were crushed by the Islamists taking over most of the revolutions, steering those countries in to oblivion, specifically in Syria. Numerous atrocities were commited and there are those in the Arab world who have now rethought the whole view point of prevalent within the Arab world, including how they view Israel. In an interview on the 19 March 2014 with Syrian Orient News TV channel, Dr. Kamal Al-Labwani stated, “Today, it is our huge Syrian Arab army that is attacking us. Hizbullah is attacking us, while Israel treats the wounded. The equation has changed today. Who is our friend, and who is our foe? The things that have happened have completely changed the notions. Who is our enemy? Is our enemy the Lebanese who is fighting us, or the Israeli who live in Jerusalem? I’m just asking. Our Iraqi “brother” who has come to slaughter us in Yabroud – is he our friend or foe? Is he really a brother to us? There are many new questions. Dogmatic thinking is pointless.”
Dr Kamal’s plan for peace in Syria included making peace with Israel and even relinquishing Syrian rights to the Golan Heights in exchange for Israel’s help in toppling the Assad regime. He further stated, “I do not want to condemn anyone. I myself worked hard to rid myself of the prevailing dogma that is passed down from generation to generation, and is elevated to the level of sanctity and taboo – a dogma that calls to perpetuate conflicts, as opposed to burying them…”
Although Al-Labwani’s plan drew harsh criticism from many fellow rebel leaders, nevertheless, his thinking is a break from the norm and could be a sign that others also think like him.
This disenchantment with the Arab narrative and willingness to blame Israel for inter-Arab wars was lambasted by Dr. ‘Ali Sa’d Al-Moussa who wrote on the 22 August 2016 in the Saudi daily Al-Watan; “[The world outside] the blood-soaked region between Mosul, [Syria] and Sirt, [Libya], and between Idlib, [Syria] and ‘Aden, [Yemen], does not see even a tenth of the strife [that goes on in that region]… not even between the two Koreas or between the Hutu and the Tutsi in Africa. This proves that the world could have been a safer and quieter place had the Middle East not been in its midst. And I ask that none of you place the blame for this on Israel, for that is [just] a shallow excuse. Israel has nothing to do with the struggle between ISIS and [Jabhat] Al-Nusra, or with what is happening between ‘Afash [a nickname for former Yemeni president ‘Ali Abdullah Saleh], [‘Abd Al-Malik] Al-Houthi [head of the Houthi Ansar Allah group in Yemen] and the Yemeni government, and has nothing to do with the ideological war that is raging in the distant deserts of Libya.
“We in this blood-red region on the world map are born [carrying] the gene of an unknown virus in our body, which soon awakens and multiplies, [triggering] destruction and war, hatred, exclusion and the despicable categorizing [of people]. In the last five years of internecine [fighting], we have killed tens of times more people from our own ranks than were killed in 50 years of historical wars with Israel….”
As the saying goes “war makes strange bed fellows”, and there is no stranger bed fellow when Syrian rebels post on twitter saying; “Well done Israeli heroes” (Account has currently been shut down). Syrian opposition figure Omar Alzoubi-Daraa, wrote on Twitter. “Thank you Israel” and “Terrorist Samir Kuntar and Other terrorist Huzbollah leaders have been killed by Israeli raids. What a beautiful job”.
This was posted after the death of Samir Kuntar, who was a Hezbollah terrorist who had committed terror attacks against Israel whilst being member of the Palestine Liberation Front. He had been treated by Hezbollah as a hero upon his releases by Israel in a prisoner exchange in 2008. He was deployed by Hezbollah in Syria to rally the Druze community to their cause. He was killed in Damascus in December 2015 supposedly by an Israeli air strike, although the Free Syrian Army took credit for his death. The fact that Syrian rebels have reached a point of hatred for Hezbollah and call Israel “heroes” shows how the Arab Spring has changed the opinions of many.
This enthusiastic praise for Israel may be partly generated by Syrian’s knowledge that they can find medical treatment in Israel, their supposedly sworn enemy. With hundreds of Syrians having been treated in Israeli hospitals, opinions are bound to start changing when Israel kills such a member of Hezbollah.
Globalisation is playing a big part in this shift. As the world gets smaller because of the internet, specifically due to social media, regular people are able to communicate to the world what is really happening, as opposed to an official media outlet controlled by a tyrannical regime. This also means that extremely graphic and violent material is posted and shared online. A lot of material like this from the Syrian civil war has been shared and these images and videos have sent shockwaves throughout the Muslim world and have provoked many to call for liberalism and true adoption for Western democratic values. This call has gotten louder and is seen as the only cure for the Arab world’s downward spiral into a violent abyss. These views call for the changing of Arab mentalities including how Israel and Jews are viewed.
This includes many old doctrines that have been part of the Arab world for almost 100 years, such as pan-Arabism. As was concluded by Saleh Al-Shayeji, in the Kuwaiti government daily Al-Anba, November 23, 2015; “In sum, Israel is not the Arab’s enemy, and the Arabs must all free themselves of the pan-Arab complex and take their own independent steps and decisions, far from the delusion of the single [pan-Arab] nation!!”
There are differing views on globalisation within the Arab World. Generally, it is viewed negatively; as a Western attack on their religious and cultural identity, atempting to control the Arabs and their resources. However, there are those who have embraced the Western ideals and these have seeped in to the Arab discourse and call for more of these values to be part of Arab society. Khaled Montaser, an Egyptian doctor, wrote on September 12 2016 in the daily Al-Watan; “There is no escape from joining the world while preserving [our] cultural uniqueness. There is no escape from merging and interacting [with the world] without losing [our] identity… We must discard the obsession, the delusion, and the lie of the two camps [perception] and not live as prisoners [of the view] that we are the best, greatest, and most moral… [This view] blinds our eyes from seeing ourselves in the mirror, keeps us from coping [with reality] in times of true danger, and paralyzes us when we are called to participate in the circle of culture and play a constructive role in it [instead of] withdrawing and isolating ourselves, wallowing in our problems and sorrow and reminiscing [about the past], and manufacturing explosive belts in the caves of Tora Bora and the forests of Somalia…” he ended by saying “…those who refuse to participate, or think they are the only ones with the right to hold a stake, belong outside the camp where there is thunder, lightning, scorpions, snakes, thirst, and hunger – in the desert of isolation without mercy, salvation, or protection.”
In conclusion, the combined factors of the Iran danger, the sidelining of the Palestinian’s, the Arab Spring together with globalisation, are creating the possiblity of a new Middle East where Arabs and Jews will get along and co-operate together to build a stable Middle East. If Israel and others tread carefuly this may become the reality.