Returning from Gulf states, US envoy notes their progress in tackling anti-Semitism

When U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Deborah Lipstadt recently met with a Saudi diplomat, she recalled, “He stood up and said to me, ‘I just ‘a city where there were Jews’.

“I looked at him and I said ‘Medina’ and he said ‘good’,” Lipstadt recalls, apparently referring to the long-extinct Jewish community in the Hejaz region believed to date back in the 6th century.

This interaction in Saudi Arabia, a country that has been widely criticized for its human rights abuses, was a highlight of Lipstadt’s recent trip to the Middle East, her first tour as the Department’s special envoy. American State for Anti-Semitism, which she recounted during a virtual briefing on Monday. . She called the interaction cordial while acknowledging the costs of the feelings she was tasked with monitoring.

At the briefing, Lipstadt acknowledged that the kingdom was not “perfect by our human rights standards”, but said she believed in his presence in “a place that had once been the source of so much hatred of the Jews, so much extremism”. would turn out to be a net positive. When meeting with Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji, Lipstadt said, they discussed the possibility of organizing a future conference on “Jewish-Arab” issues to explore the historical presence of Jews in the country. the kingdom.

“If I can lessen this degree of animosity [toward Jews], if I can ensure that this degree is not distributed among others, I think I should, ”she said. “I would be guilty not to.”

She warned that it would be wrong to conclude that the kingdom has completely reformed – that would be “drinking the Kool-Aid”, she said. “The King of Saudi Arabia sent imams abroad to various mosques, including in this country, who preached anti-Semitism.”

But she saw positive signs in the region, including reports that anti-Semitic material was recently removed from Saudi textbooks.

Saudi Arabia, which supports countries currently engaged in the Abraham Accords, has recently hinted at a desire to normalize relations with Israel as part of a bulwark against Iran. US President Joe Biden also recently visited the kingdom on his own trip to the Middle East, flying there on a historic direct flight from Israel.

Although the Abraham Accords are seen as having potentially removed the leverage for future progress in negotiations with the Palestinians, Lipstadt said she hopes her work in the region can help those talks by removing the anti-Semitism out of the equation in countries like the United Arab Emirates.

“I hope our ability to maybe spread anti-Semitism and maybe instill a different attitude, a different conception of Jews and Jews in the Gulf region, will help this problem,” she said.

US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt (right) is interviewed by former US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro in Washington on August 1, 2022. (Screenshot/Zoom)

Lipstadt also shared that she gave a talk on the Torah part at a Shabbat service in Dubai as part of an Abraham Accords promotion; met Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on his first full day in office; and then traveled to Argentina for the anniversary of the deadly bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires.

In Argentina, a big political development has emerged: 28 years after the deadliest attack on a Jewish institution since the Holocaust, the president has pledged to appoint a special envoy on anti-Semitism, the country’s own version of the role of Lipstadt.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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