Last week, Israel approved Egypt’s transfer of the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, a de-facto move toward normalization between Jerusalem and Riyadh. The Saudis took another step in this direction by opening their airspace to Israeli flights, and an Israeli journalist has reportedly visited Mecca, from which non-Muslims are generally barred. Jacob Magid, another journalist who came to Jeddah on the first-ever direct flight from Tel Aviv to the kingdom, spoke to several Saudis in the Haifa mall, located on the city’s Palestine Street:
“A Jew is a Jew, whether in Israel or Moscow,” said Sultan, a salesman at a watch kiosk, as Beyonce’s “Halo” played in the gleaming mall. . . . Aware he was speaking with a member of the Israeli press—I was one of three reporters for Israeli publications who joined the White House press corps for the Saudi leg of Biden’s Middle East trip—the salesman had no problem launching into a diatribe about how the Jews wanted to kill the prophet Mohammad and are “the enemies of Islam.”
Learning my name, Sultan admitted that he had never met a Jew before. “The Quran says it’s good that we’re all different,” Sultan clarified, in an impressive 180-degree turn from his original argument. Experts say a similar about-face will be needed if Israeli-Saudi normalization—a process Riyadh claims is not happening—is to see a warm welcoming of Israeli and Jews after decades of hostility and demonization.
Although Sultan was not alone in expressing this view, Magid encountered another position as well:
Out in the Jeddah night, my Uber driver, Ahmed, echoed a sentiment expressed by many others in the mall: that he didn’t have much of an opinion on the matter and that he trusted the Saudi government to act appropriately.