Why won’t the Saudis, who resent Trump, drop their ban on Jews?

Democrats and Republicans who have been rushing to attack Trump’s comments about Muslims who visit America would be wise to condemn religion-based discrimination in all parts of the world.

By DAVID BENKOF
December 16, 2015 20:55
2 minute read.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign stop in Worcester, Massachusetts

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign stop in Worcester, Massachusetts. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The online bickering between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his fellow billionaire Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal over Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigration is seeped with irony: For decades, Saudi Arabia has had a near-total ban on granting visas to Jews.

In a December 11 tweet, Al-Waleed called on Trump to withdraw from the presidential race, prompting Trump to call him a “Dopey Prince.” Many Saudis have promised to stop doing business with Trump-affiliated enterprises. And one Saudi billionaire accused Trump of “creating war” and “hatred between Muslims and Christians.”

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But Saudi policies over the years have made it virtually impossible for Jews to visit the kingdom:

• Israeli citizens are explicitly barred from receiving Saudi visas, as are all would-be visitors who even have an Israeli stamp in their passports.

• In 1991, after the United States protected the Saudis by defeating Iraq in the Gulf War, 17 senators applied for visas to visit the kingdom. One, the Jewish senator Frank Lautenberg, was refused entry until he got a new passport because he had previously visited Israel.

• In 2004 a Saudi government Internet site promoting tourism stated an explicit “no Jews” policy. Though that statement was later taken down, Saudi Arabia did not deny the policy had every existed. In fact, in the 1970s would-be visitors had to swear they were not Jewish to be allowed in.

• Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal was once asked if Jews could enter, and he could think of only two who had: US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, then the US’s top diplomat; and the fiercely anti-Israel Rabbi Elmer Berger.

• Last year, the Saudis denied entry to only one journalist who planned to cover President Barack Obama’s visit to the kingdom: Jerusalem Post Washington bureau chief Michael Wilner, who is Jewish. However, Wilner is not an Israeli and has never lived in Israel.


America’s protestations of this blatant bigotry have been largely muted, apparently in deference to the sensibilities our oil-rich ally.

Clearly, the Saudis are not taking a principled stand against religion-based visa discrimination. They think discriminating against a religion is perfectly fine – as long as it’s not their religion.

(To be clear, I abhor Trump’s proposed policy. That does not detract from the outrageous Saudi inconsistency on the matter.) The Saudi approach is consistent with Muslim attitudes toward “blaspheming” their prophet. During the 2005 controversy over cartoons depicting Muhammad, Muslims around the world claimed it was wrong to criticize people’s religions – but they never objected to images and artwork criticizing Christianity and other non-Muslim religions.

And that’s the point. Most Muslim countries and many of their citizens do not share Western-style values of tolerance and respect. They do not tolerate and respect other religions; they just want special treatment for Islam.

The Democrats and Republicans who have been rushing to attack Trump’s comments about Muslims who visit America would be wise to condemn religion-based discrimination in all parts of the world. And the Saudis could demonstrate that their protests are based on principle rather than self-interest by changing their visa policies and finally welcoming Israelis and other Jews who wish to visit.

I’m not holding my breath.

The writer is senior political analyst at
The Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @DavidBenkof or write him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

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