Lauder in Arab News: A new page in Muslim-Jewish relations - analysis

“The old broadside attacks against Israelis by almost all Arab countries have quietly dissipated and the evidence is as clear as the nightly television entertainment shows that people are watching.”

RONALD LAUDER, president of the World Jewish Congress.  (photo credit: WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS)
RONALD LAUDER, president of the World Jewish Congress.
(photo credit: WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS)
A quiet revolution is taking place in the Arab world, Ron Lauder wrote. The president of the World Jewish Congress lauded efforts at tolerance that he has seen in recent year as a new page in Muslim-Jewish relations is emerging. The op-ed, which was published over the weekend in Arab News, an English-language daily based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is unique.
The op-ed follows other initiatives that has seen more opened to tolerance of Jews, embracing of mutual heritage and also Israeli relations with the Arab world.
“The old broadside attacks against Israelis by almost all Arab countries have quietly dissipated and the evidence is as clear as the nightly television entertainment shows that people are watching,” wrote Lauder.
“In sharp contrast to too many other channels, the Saudi satellite network MBC has challenged old taboos with a surprisingly positive depiction of Jews.”
The new show Um Haroun tells the tale of a Jewish woman in Bahrain and takes place in the 1940s. Lauder wrote that the appearance of the show during Ramadan on Saudi television is a signal of changing views in the Gulf. “This reality embodies huge progress and change on an international scale.” Gone are the bad old days when textbooks were full of hatred for Israel, and a new era may be emerging. “I have traveled to many Muslim countries to meet heads of state, members of government, workers, journalists, and students. Not every conversation has been easy and sometimes we have encountered prejudice, but mostly we were able to have a constructive dialogue,” Lauder wrote.
As head of the World Jewish Congress he discusses other recent experiences, such as going to Auschwitz-Birkenau alongside the secretary-general of the Mecca-based Muslim World League and other Muslim leaders. “This new interconnected era in which we now find ourselves has turned our world into a small village where peace is possible,” the op-ed argued. That trip was a joint American Jewish Committee and Muslim World League delegation, led by AJC CEO David Harris and MWL Secretary General Mohammad Al-Issa.
In recent years, increased openness from governments in the UAE and Oman have illustrated that winds of change may be blowing. Israel has held discussions with Chad and Sudan as well and Israeli ministers went to the Gulf and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to Oman. There are many challenges to be surmounted, including the Iranian threat, and Israel’s domestic politics regarding possible annexation of the West Bank. However, the changes in views of Jews in general is a major milestone in a region where it was largely taken for granted that antisemitism was almost official state policy in most places. Stories of historic tolerance dating back to the era of Maimonides were often hidden behind extreme hatred of Israel that manifested itself as attacks on synagogues or use of Jewish symbols as a means of insult. Lauder’s op-ed is symbolic of a shift.