The Saudi Religious Scholar Who Is Trying to Fix Islam’s Anti-Semitism Problem

March 1 2018

Since his appointment as head of the Muslim World League in 2016, Muhammad al-Issa has taken the organization—which has historically been used by the Saudi monarchy to spread fundamentalist, intolerant, and often anti-Semitic teachings around the globe—in a decidedly anti-Islamist direction. He has, in recent months, also been trying to offer a new attitude toward Jews. Having interviewed Issa, Ben Cohen writes:

[I]t is plain to see why, at this particular juncture, [Issa] is an asset to a Saudi government eager to convince the West that, finally, it stands resolute against both Sunni and Shiite variants of Islamism and is determined to establish Islam as a religion of peace and coexistence. Still, to reduce Issa’s own message to a strictly political calculation would be a grave mistake, if only because its theological content needs to be heard irrespective of the political machinations in Gulf capitals. . . .

Throughout our discussion, Issa was adamant that Muhammad’s faith was predicated on an appreciation for a divine order in which differences among religions and nations are a cause for peace, rather than conflict—the diametrical opposite of the vengeful teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations. . . . Moreover, Issa stressed that—in contrast to the long-standing Christian depiction of the Jews as eternally responsible for the death of Jesus—Islam did not approach Judaism from the vantage point of “original sin.” . . . A Muslim, then, faces no challenge to his faith when it comes to “respecting the Jewish religion and the right of the Jews to live in dignity.”

When that “dignity” includes an independent, sovereign state that is yet to exchange ambassadors with Saudi Arabia after 70 years of existence, what then? Again and again, Issa emphasized the political neutrality of the Muslim World League, and the need for a strict separation between religious faith and political orientation. At the same time, he gave no succor to historic Arab ambitions for Israel’s elimination. Peace begins, Issa said, by recognizing that all the nations of the region will remain exactly where they are.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Islam, Islamism, Moderate Islam, Muslim-Jewish relations, Religion & Holidays, Saudi Arabia

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war