saudi al-faisal 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
In stark contrast to Iran's promotion of Holocaust denial, Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the US Turki Al-Faisal attended a Capitol Hill reception condemning anti-Semitism on Wednesday, and one of his diplomats told The Jerusalem Post the Holocaust was a "horrible" episode.
Agreeing to speak to an Israeli newspaper, Saudi diplomatic official Jamal Khashoggi, who accompanied Al-Faisal to the event, told the Post that the Holocaust is a "historical fact. It did happen."
Jewish officials hosting the function also noted the presence of the ambassadors of Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, and a lower-level official from the Egyptian Embassy.
In discussing the Saudi presence at the reception, Khashoggi said, "It should be a known fact that the Arabs never had a problem with anti-Semitism, but we need to state that over and over again."
Khashoggi also referred to what he called other terrible chapters similar to the Holocaust, including the burning of Baghdad in the Middle Ages and the Palestinian "nakba," or catastrophe, when the State of Israel was established.
"I know Jewish people don't like this comparison, but everyone has his own holocaust," Khashoggi said. Earlier he stated, "Yes, we have a problem with Israel, but it's a political problem."
Some observers suggested that the presence of Saudis at the evening, coming at a time of intensified Saudi diplomacy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was of political significance.
"The Saudis would probably like to emphasize the fact that they're concerned about anti-Muslim feeling, which they see as similar to anti-Semitism, but it will be seen as a further step towards Israel by Saudi Arabia," said Simon Henderson, a Saudi Arabia expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Their attendance at the reception "was a visible confirmation that the door is open. How wide it is open at the moment and how to make it stay open are still questions."
Gregg Rickman, the State Department's first special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, in whose honor the event was held, said it was meaningful that Al-Faisal, who is in his last few days of office, was present.
"It was significant that he was here. I think it speaks for itself that he was here," Rickman told the Post at the conclusion of the reception.
The event was held in a Senate reception room. Jewish officials hosting it welcomed the presence of the Arab diplomats and expressed hope that their presence was indicative of improvements in their countries' tackling of anti-Semitism.
"Saudi Arabia, until now, has been very oblivious and insensitive to issues of anti-Semitism," said Jess Hordes, Washington director of the Anti-Defamation League, who pointed to Saudi dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda in schools. "That a Saudi ambassador would be at an event recognizing the fight against anti-Semitism has the potential to be important." He added, however, that "the key is what they do internally."
"The tie between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is very clear, and coming to an event that is fighting anti-Semitism is tantamount to coming to an event that is fighting anti-Zionism," said the reception's host, William Daroff, director of the United Jewish Communities' Washington office, who couldn't recall seeing the Saudi ambassador at a similar function. "Coming to this event is a step forward."
The Saudi appearance comes at a time when the Saudis have had contact with Washington pro-Israel groups on the left side of the political spectrum, including Americans for Peace Now (APN) and the Israel Policy Forum, and have been touting their peace plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We welcome these efforts, just as we welcome the gesture by the outgoing Saudi ambassador, which we hope expresses a growing Saudi sensitivity to anti-Jewish bigotry," said APN spokesman Ori Nir.