US anti-Semitic envoy heads to Saudi Arabia on first foreign trip

In a sign of the changing political climate in the Middle East, Deborah Lipstadt, the US special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, will begin her first international trip with a visit to Saudi Arabia this weekend, followed by stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia is a very important country in the Gulf. “You have shown a willingness and openness to host me,” Lipstadt told reporters before the official announcement of the trip. “We received a very warm reception from them.”

Lipstadt plans to meet with government ministers and civil society leaders while in Saudi Arabia, though she did not reveal details of those she would meet. In Israel, she will “catch my breath during the Sabbath”, meet with US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nedis and organize public events with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al-Otaiba helps Lipstadt organize meetings in the Emirates — “anything you want,” she said he offered. She told reporters that she had hoped to visit Bahrain, but did not have time for this trip.

Saudi Arabia has long faced criticism for its educational curricula that promote hatred against Jews and other religious minorities, as well as women and members of the LGBTQ community. A recent State Department report found that anti-Semitic material is still openly circulating in the country, indicating that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Hitler my struggle It was sold at the 2021 Riyadh International Book Fair, which was organized by the Saudi Ministry of Culture. The report also noted that Saudi clerics continue to invoke antisemitic metaphors and language in sermons.

Over the past two years, Saudi textbooks have begun to reclaim that language. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also indicated that the country’s leadership had announced attempts to combat extremism in the country.

“When a country with a long history, I don’t know what to say, has suspicious or colorful reactions – you know, the divergent reactions, at best, towards Jews and Jewish history says, ‘Come and talk’…they’ I know what I want to discuss, “They know what I want to eat, so I think it was reckless not to grab that.” She likened her work with Saudi Arabia to “pressing the open door,” adding that it would be “irresponsible” not to visit the country.

Lipstadt insisted that her visit was not of a political nature, and that it was not linked to the Biden administration’s stated goal of expanding the Abraham Accords.

“I am not coming to discuss regional politics,” she said. But in light of “the worldview that arose as a result of the agreements of Abraham, to talk to them about the normalization of the vision of the Jews, the normalization of the understanding of the Jewish history of their population, in particular – not only, but especially the younger population, is really important.”

President Joe Biden is set to travel to Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia just weeks after Lipstadt’s visit. US administration officials presented Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia as an opportunity to reaffirm Washington’s relations with Riyadh, and a way to encourage Saudi Arabia to produce more oil and help lower gas prices.

But administration officials have also publicly stated that they hope to see at some point a normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf suggested that the president might make announcements on this front while in the region.

“We’re engaged with a number of additional countries behind closed doors, and I think around the time the president’s trip you’ll see some interesting things,” Leaf said in response to a question about the Abraham Accords.

Lipstadt’s predecessor, Ilan Carr, also traveled to the Middle East, where he signed memoranda of understanding with a Moroccan NGO and a Bahraini organization closely linked to the country’s monarchy. But he did not visit Saudi Arabia.

Next month, she will leave Lipstadt on another foreign trip, to South America. It will visit Buenos Aires on July 18, the anniversary of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center that killed 85 people and wounded hundreds more, and will also stop in Chile.

“I feel like it didn’t get the attention of the Jewish community, let alone in the international community, because it deserved it,” she said of the AMIA bombing, “considering it was the biggest – the highest death toll in an institution since the Holocaust.”

Lipstadt said US Ambassador to Argentina Mark Stanley was “very active” in raising the issue of the bombing and its lack of accountability to the Argentine government. “It was he, along with the Argentines, who started pushing for this to be included in my calendar.”

She plans to visit Chile, a country with a small Jewish population, because “the Jewish community feels insecure,” Lipstadt explained, citing a story she heard from a mother who had her children mocked at a mall for wearing the T-shirt from their daily Jewish school. . “That’s what anti-Semitism means.”

Lipstadt hopes to visit Europe later in the summer.

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