Thursday, February 21, 2008


Israeli and Saudi Ambassadors Trade Shots


There’s an interesting exchange in the National Post between the Israeli and Saudi ambassadors to Canada, starting with this op-ed by Alan Baker stating some simple facts about: The poisonous myth of ‘Israeli apartheid’.

Israel is a liberal democracy, guaranteeing civil, religious and social equality to all its citizens — including Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze and Baha’0is. Israel’s Arab citizens have the right to vote, and are represented by three Arab political parties in Israel’s parliament (the Knesset), representing a gamut of views from communism to Islamic fundamentalism. Several newspapers freely represent the views of Arab citizens in a far freer manner than is permitted among the media of Israel’s neighbours.

Complete freedom of religion for all is strictly protected in Israel — unlike in neighbouring countries, which recognize only one state religion, Islam, and even criminalize and persecute the practice of other faiths. Consider, for instance, Saudi Arabia, whose police recently arrested 40 Christians for the “crime” of praying in a private house. Followers of the Baha’is religion, who are persecuted in Iran, are welcomed in Israel, and maintain their central religious institutions in Haifa and Acre. Coptic Christians, who face restrictions in neighbouring Arab countries, enjoy freedom of religion in Israel.

This statement of fact about the appalling religious oppression in Saudi Arabia obviously didn’t sit well with the representative of the House of Saud, who replies that Israel is too an apartheid state, and advises people to look up Jimmy Carter ... and Rachel Corrie: Saudi ambassador responds.

While I acknowledge the Israeli ambassador’s right to defend his country with respect to the “Israeli Apartheid Week” recently hosted by several Canadian universities, I don’t think that he has the right to somehow implicate and attack the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in his article. The fact that his country is considered an apartheid regime has absolutely nothing to do with Saudi Arabia.

When I arrived in Canada I quickly realized that this country has a deep-rooted history of high principles and values and that everyone is equal before the law in terms of their rights and obligations. [Much to his dismay. – ed.] In this same spirit, I tried to avoid getting involved in confrontations with any of my colleagues, knowing that there is no such thing as absolute truth.

Thus, I was very keen not to get involved in any frictions with the Israeli ambassador, as I am convinced that the reality on the ground is sufficient enough to condemn Israel’s conscience without any further contribution form my part.

For this reason, I leave it up to readers to learn about the reality on the ground in Israel by referring, for instance, to the American peace activist Rachel Corrie on the internet or Palestine: Peace not Apartheid by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

Abdulaziz H. Al-Sowayegh.

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