Analysis: Saudi lobbyist’s call for alliance with Israel fuels angry response

Last month, Palestinians were left wondering, as a Saudi newspaper took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s side in a dispute with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Netanyahu and Saudi King Salman (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu and Saudi King Salman
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An unprecedented call by a Saudi lobbyist in Washington for a “collaborative alliance” between Israel and Saudi Arabia has prompted an angry response from fellow Saudis.
Writing last week in the Washington, DC publication The Hill, Salman al-Ansari, founder and president of the Saudi America Public Relations Affairs Committee, invoked history, economics and strategic reasons in support of why the two countries should forge a strong alliance.
The “prevailing political discourse might indicate that it is not only in the interest of both countries to form a collaborative alliance, but in the interest of the greater Middle East and their global allies as well,” he wrote.
Angry tweets soon followed, and Saudi writer Badr al-Rashed wrote a point-by-point rebuttal of Ansari in an article, titled “The deceptions of normalization with Israel,” for the London- based website al-Araby al-Jadeed.
The opposition to Ansari appears to show that while figures in the Saudi elite may be shifting away from the traditional view of Israel as an enemy, popular sentiment against normalization remains strong.
Rashed wrote that Ansari is even worse than other advocates of normalization, in that he “completely ignores the Israeli occupation, in addition to not mentioning the crimes of killing and siege that the Israelis commit against the Palestinians every day.”
Ansari’s article was published three months after a Saudi delegation of academics and businessmen, led by retired Saudi general Anwar Eshki, garnered criticism from the Arab world for openly visiting Israel and meeting with officials and MKs. There was speculation that the trip reflected a quiet development of discrete ties between the countries, based largely on their common enemy, Iran.
Last month, Palestinians were left wondering, as a Saudi newspaper took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s side in a dispute with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Saudi Gazette criticized Abbas for not accepting an invitation from Netanyahu to address the Knesset.
While Eshki was careful during his visit to call on Israel to end its rule of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by adopting the Saudi peace initiative, Ansari made no mention of the Palestinians or the initiative at all. He wrote that it is not just shared enmity towards Iran that should bring Israel and Saudi Arabia together, but also “a mutually beneficial economic partnership.”
“To illustrate this, history tells us that Arabs and Jews were some of the strongest partners in trade, culture and mutual security, living in relatively peaceful coexistence for centuries, whether they were in the Middle East, North Africa or even Spain,” he wrote.
“When talking about fairly recent history, it is common knowledge that Saudi Arabia and Israel have committed to rational and balanced foreign policies over the past 70 years, never seeking any provocative or hostile actions against each other. It’s also important to note that there are hundreds of Jews hailing from many corners of the world who are currently working in Saudi Arabia, contributing to its financial, infrastructure and energy projects,” Ansari continued.
He added that Israel is capable of contributing to Saudi Arabia as the kingdom goes through “its biggest economic transition in its history,” by helping in the fields of mining and desalinization. On security, Ansari wrote that the countries share mutual concerns in that both face threats “from extremist groups that are directly supported by the totalitarian government of Iran.”
A Twitter respondent, Abdul, called Ansari’s article despicable, saying, “It not only calls for normalization and economic partnership with the Zionists, it glorifies them.”
Another respondent, Salem Abdallah al-Matua, tweeted, “Your tweets and this article make me positive that you don’t care for the interests of Saudi Arabia in the American capital as you claim. Your positions concur with the policy of Tel Aviv.”
Rashed wrote that Ansari’s article shows an ignorance of regional history and is factually incorrect in its claim that there has been no hostility between Israel and Saudi Arabia over the last 70 years.
“Saudi Arabia participated on the Arab side in 1948, and despite the hostility between the Nasser regime and Saudi Arabia, it participated in the 1967 war. Saudi troops participated alongside Syrian troops in 1973.”
Saudi Arabia enacted the oil embargo that year, Rashed wrote, and a few years later, Saudi Arabia joined with Iraq in isolating Egypt after the Camp David agreement.
“If this course of action doesn’t prove hostile relations than there is no meaning to the word hostile,” he wrote. “There is a misunderstanding in Ansari’s mixing of the historical relations between Jews and Muslims, and the relations between Arabs and Israelis today,” Rashed continued.
“The truth is, there is no relation between hostility to Israel and antisemitism, which is essentially a European-American characteristic,” he wrote. “Rejection of Israel is rejection of the Zionist-colonialist ideology, not rejection of Judaism as a religion.”