Jewish Channel 13 reporter sparks outrage after visiting Mecca

Israel's Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej (Meretz), who is Muslim himself, called the incident "a stupid thing to do and take pride in."

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand mosque ahead of annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 16, 2018 (photo credit: ZOHRA BENSEMRA/REUTERS)
Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand mosque ahead of annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 16, 2018
(photo credit: ZOHRA BENSEMRA/REUTERS)

Gil Tamary, a reporter for Channel 13, sparked outrage from Muslims and Jews after he entered Mecca and filmed a report within the Muslim holy city as millions of Muslims from around the world conducted the Hajj (pilgrimage) to the city.

Tamary was in Saudi Arabia as he had received a special permit, along with two other Israeli reporters, to cover the regional conference attended by US President Joe Biden last week.

Non-Muslims are completely prohibited from entering the city of Mecca and are largely banned from the city of Medina, although restrictions on access to Medina have reportedly been somewhat lightened in recent years. The ban is largely based on a verse in the Quran (Surah At-Tawbah 9:28) banning polytheists from approaching the Great Mosque in Mecca.

In the Channel 13 report published on Monday, Tamary notes that non-Muslims are not allowed into Mecca, but he proceeded to detail how he managed to enter the city and go up Mt. Arafat with a Muslim driver regardless.

The journalist stressed that the driver did not know that he was an Israeli journalist, as he took care to speak only in English.

 Quran Gate, Entrance to Mecca (credit: Rowan5j/Wikimedia Commons) Quran Gate, Entrance to Mecca (credit: Rowan5j/Wikimedia Commons)

"#Jew_in_the_Haram"

The report sparked outrage on social media, with users tweeting the hashtag “Jew_in_the_Haram” (a reference to the Great Mosque “Masjid al-Haram”).

“#Jew_in_the_Haram and the best scholars of the nation in the kingdom are behind bars... O woe, a nation that is silent about all of this,” tweeted Syrian journalist Ahmed Muwaffaq Zaidan. “Oh God, do not blame us for what he did and the foolish ones among them do.”

Pro-Israel Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud also condemned Tamary’s entrance to Mecca, posting a video on Twitter saying, “my dear friends in Israel, a journalist of yours entered the Muslim holy city of Mecca and took video without shame. This is like if I were to enter a synagogue and read from the Torah. Shame on you, Channel 13, to hurt the Muslim religion like this. You are arrogant.”

Saud also wrote an op-ed on Arutz Sheva’s website titled “The report by Gil Tamary - terrible Israeli arrogance.”

“This is terrible Israeli insolence,” wrote Saud. “What were you thinking, Channel 13 and Gil Tamary? Have they gone completely crazy? They should be ashamed, to desecrate our holy city like this. Have you ever seen a Muslim go up to perform a priestly blessing in a synagogue? What an arrogant channel and journalist that he is a walking disgrace, for shame.”

The Saudi blogger stressed that he strongly supports coexistence between Arabs and Jews, but that after the report, he “broke a little.”

“What did he find out they did not know about the place?” wrote Saud. “The place is filmed 24 hours a day, there is Google today and you can check everything about this place. He knew he was violating the law of the country. He knew he was violating the religion of Islam, but he and his channel decided to show contempt and hit us with unparalleled impudence.”

Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej (Meretz), who is Muslim himself, reacted as well. “I’m sorry, [but] it was a stupid thing to do and take pride in,” he said. “It was irresponsible and damaging to air this report just for the sake of ratings.”

Frej said that the report hurt US-encouraged efforts to gradually move Israel and Saudi Arabia toward more normal ties, similar to the 2020 diplomatic deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Israeli social media users also expressed outrage at Tamary’s entry to the city. “It seems that Channel 13 needs to give answers to the public about Gil Tamary’s report,” former MK Yehudah Glick tweeted. “The quicker the apology and renunciation come, the more the strength of the damage will be lessened.”

“For a moment, Gil Tamary sounds like one of the nature researchers of National Geographic who takes viewers on a journey in hidden places where no human foot has stepped,” wrote Haaretz journalist Sheren Falah Saab.

“On the one hand, Gil Tamary’s article in Mecca is truly journalistic courage,” tweeted Avraham Bloch, a reporter with Channel 14. “On the other hand, what would we think if the Temple existed and a Muslim passed through the [wall marking where non-Jews cannot pass]? What would we think if a Muslim were to eat meat from a Passover sacrifice? Blasphemy.”

According to Makor Rishon, sources in the Foreign Ministry stated that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not sent any official complaint or protest about Tamary’s entrance to Mecca.

Channel 13 apologizes 'if anyone is offended'

Tamary and Channel 13 issued an apology on Tuesday, claiming that the report “was not intended to offend Muslims,” with Tamary adding that if “anyone takes offense to this video, I deeply apologize.”

“Inquisitiveness is at the heart and center of journalism, and this type of firsthand journalistic encounter is what separates good journalism from great journalism,” added the Channel 13 journalist. “This founding principle also guided us in this journalistic endeavor and allowed many people to see, for the first time, a place that is so important to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to human history.”

Muslim journalists are allowed into Mecca. A number of journalists in mainstream Israeli media channels are Muslims and seemingly would have been able to enter Mecca without breaking Saudi or Muslim law.

In 2017, Russian-Israeli Ben Tzion sparked outrage on social media after posting photos of himself inside the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, a city to which access is heavily restricted to non-Muslims.

Reuters contributed to this report.