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Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca: We Need to Treat Jews Well!

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand mosque during the annual Haj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia September 8, 2016. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)

For the second time in a month, President Trump said that he believed Saudi Arabia will diplomatically recognize Israel in the not-too-distant future, a diplomatic shift that would represent as close to genuine “peace in the Middle East” as anyone could reasonably imagine. As many observers of the Middle East have noted, Bahrain and Saudi governments are close allies, and it is unlikely Bahrain would have move forward with its recognition of Israel without some sort of tacit agreement or support from Saudi Arabia.

But is Saudi Arabia really preparing for such an epic change in policy? Reuters news agency noticed at least one surprising shift in rhetoric:

The sermon by Abdulrahman al-Sudais, imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, broadcast on Saudi state television on Sept. 5, came three weeks after the United Arab Emirates agreed a historic deal to normalise relations with Israel and days before the Gulf state of Bahrain, a close Saudi ally, followed suit.

Sudais, who in past sermons prayed for Palestinians to have victory over the “invader and aggressor” Jews, spoke about how the Prophet Mohammad was good to his Jewish neighbour and argued the best way to persuade Jews to convert to Islam was to “treat them well.”

While Saudi Arabia is not expected to follow the example of its Gulf allies any time soon, Sudais’ remarks could be a clue to how the kingdom approaches the sensitive subject of warming to Israel – a once inconceivable prospect. Appointed by the king, he is one of the country’s most influential figures, reflecting the views of its conservative religious establishment as well as the Royal Court…

The Sept. 5 sermon drew a mixed reaction, with some Saudis defending him as simply communicating the teachings of Islam. Others on Twitter, mostly Saudis abroad and apparently critical of the government, called it “the normalisation sermon”.

Can you picture Saudis tuning in for the sermon, expecting the usual fiery denunciation of Jews, and suddenly hearing that they should be “treating them well”?

If nothing else, a sermon such as this suggests some Saudi leaders are at least thinking about a dramatically different approach to Israel, and testing the waters, to see if the Saudi public is open to the change.

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