Israel To Attend Gathering Organized by Saudi Arabia

By Marc Perelman

Published October 29, 2008, issue of November 07, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Israel will attend a high-level interfaith meeting sponsored by Saudi Arabia that is set to be held at the United Nations in November.

ABDULLAH: Saudi king has pushed interfaith dialogue.
ABDULLAH: Saudi king has pushed interfaith dialogue.

The conference, formally organized by the president of the U.N.’s General Assembly, is a follow-up to another Saudi-sponsored interfaith meeting held in Spain over the summer. Israeli officials were not invited to attend that meeting.

An Israeli official told the Forward that Israeli officials would participate in the November 13 interfaith dialogue and is considering which senior official will come to New York for the event. President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are the most likely candidates, although much will depend on the political situation in Israel, where elections have been called.

The invitation to Israel comes soon after Peres called on Saudi King Abdullah to expand a Saudi-led peace initiative. In that initiative, first proposed six years ago, Arab countries would normalize relations with Israel if it gives up “all of the territories” occupied in the 1967 War and accepts “a just solution” for Palestinian refugees. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel was reconsidering the plan, which was endorsed by the Arab League but rejected by Israel at the time.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said he hoped the Israeli government would follow Peres’s lead when a new government is formed.

Israel, like the other 191 member states of the United Nations, received an invitation to attend the interfaith gathering from the president of the General Assembly, the Israeli official said.

Abdullah announced on October 26 that he would attend the meeting and President Bush did the same three days later.

“The President appreciates King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia’s initiative in calling for this dialogue and remains committed to fostering interfaith harmony among all religions, both at home and abroad,” the White House said in a statement. 

The Madrid meeting in July brought together representatives of major faiths, including rabbis. The run-up to the conference was marked by a dispute involving Rabbi David Rosen, who is based in Jerusalem and holds dual Israeli and Irish citizenship. The Saudi organizers eventually decided to list Rosen as American in the conference literature, prompting criticism from Israeli officials.

This time around, though, both sides were able to reach out because of the diplomatic cover provided by the U.N. Saudi Arabia reportedly agreed that Israel be invited to the parley as a U.N. member state. Saudi Arabia and Israel have no diplomatic relations.

The Saudi king has been promoting interfaith dialogue as a way to counter the influence of radical strains within Islam. Critics of his interfaith outreach efforts point to the fact that no faith other than Islam can be practiced freely in the desert kingdom. The State Department has for years criticized Riyadh’s policies and attitudes in its annual religious freedom reports.

In its statement, the White House made a point in stating that “the United States affirms its support for individual religious freedom, the right to practice one’s religion, the equality of all people regardless of their religious faith, and the other principles of religious freedom enshrined in the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.