Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia allowed the first ever direct flight to the kingdom from Tel Aviv, and invited a delegation of Israeli reporters to cover President Biden’s visit. One of these journalists took the opportunity to travel to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, and then circulated videos of himself there. Harold Rhode believes this “shameful” act will likely lead “Israel-Saudi relations to cool down” for the time being:
According to Islamic law, only Muslims are allowed to enter Mecca. Non-Muslims who violate this prohibition are seen as religiously contaminating the holy city, and are therefore punished severely. Whatever non-Muslims might think, Muslims do not see the world as non-Muslims do. It is therefore hard to explain in Western terms how serious this transgression is and the extent to which it will set back Israel-Saudi relations.
The Saudis do not have a free press and, like others in the Muslim world, have great difficulty accepting that Western governments cannot rein in their journalists. Even Muslims who know the West well often have difficulty understanding this.
Where does the above-mentioned Israeli-Jewish journalist who went to Mecca fit into this picture? To the best of our knowledge, he is a secular Jew who [perhaps] has little appreciation of the concept of holiness in any religion—including his own.
The Saudi rulers’ claim to fame in the Islamic world is that they protect Islam’s two holiest places—Mecca and Medina. To Muslims, it now looks as though Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was unable to do so. This shames him and Saudi Arabia, thus undermining their claim to be protecting the holy cities. That’s how Muslims view what happened. Even worse, as the videos he filmed demonstrate, [the Israeli reporter] clearly had fun sneaking into Mecca. From a Muslim perspective, he and by extension all of Israel have undermined the Saudi regime.