Friday December 01, 2023

Israeli delegation holds prayer service in Saudi Arabia

Service took place in Karhi’s hotel, and included 3 Jews who were in Riyadh but were not part of Karhi’s delegation

By News Report
October 04, 2023
This picture shows an Israeli flag inside the newly opened embassy of the Jewish state, in the Bahraini capital Manama, on 30 September 2021. — AFP
This picture shows an Israeli flag inside the newly opened embassy of the Jewish state, in the Bahraini capital Manama, on 30 September 2021. — AFP

RIYADH: Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi participated in a morning prayer service in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, complete with a Torah scroll dedicated to the ruler of the kingdom as it strides toward normalisation with the Jewish state, Israeli media reported.

The service, which included a quorum, or minyan, of at least 10 men, took place in Karhi’s hotel, and included three Jews who were in Riyadh but were not part of Karhi’s delegation.

Pictures released by Karhi’s office showed participants wearing traditional prayer shawls and holding an etrog alongside palm, myrtle and willow branches, part of a special rite for the Sukkot holiday. They also read from a small Torah scroll, provided by a “local Jew,” according to Karhi’s spokesman. The scroll was wrapped in a felt cover, with stitching in English, Hebrew and Arabic reading, “The Jewish Congregation, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” It also included a dedication in Hebrew to “King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and all their ministers and advisers.”

Karhi, an Orthodox Jew, landed in the Sunni kingdom on Monday evening, leading an Israeli delegation to the Universal Postal Union’s 2023 Extraordinary Congress. The minister, who was accompanied by Knesset Economy Committee chairman David Bitan, made the trip less than a week after his Likud colleague Haim Katz became the first Israeli minister to visit.

The visits come as Israel and Saudi Arabia edge closer to an agreement to normalise relations in a US-brokered deal that, if finalised, would mark a historic breakthrough for Israel’s standing in the Middle East. “Just as the windows in the House of Daniel were opened facing Jerusalem, so too in Riyadh we were able to pray with windows open facing Jerusalem,” said Karhi in a statement.

Karhi and Bitan’s delegation has a total of 14 members, including representatives of the Communications Ministry, the postal service and the Foreign Ministry, according to Karhi’s office. Karhi will deliver a speech at the conference that will focus on “progress and a bridge to peace,” his spokesman told The Times of Israel. He is also slated to meet with US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Michael Ratney, along with other global figures including Turkey’s communications minister, his office said.

Karhi also received an invitation to visit the Sukkah of Mohammed Saud, a prominent Israel supporter in Riyadh, Karhi’s office said. Saudi Arabia has no official local Jewish community, though the kingdom is thought to host a number of Jewish businesspeople.

Earlier last month, an Israeli delegation of nine staffers flew to Saudi Arabia as observers for the Unesco World Heritage Committee meeting. The delegation was led by the head of Israel’s Antiquities Authority and included diplomats, according to an Israeli official.

The trips come as US President Joe Biden’s administration is actively engaging Riyadh and Jerusalem to try to broker a normalisation deal between the two countries. As part of the framework, Saudi Arabia is also asking the US for a major mutual defence pact and significant arms deals, as well as Israeli concessions to the Palestinians.

Speaking last month at the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “on the cusp” of a historic deal with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, told Fox News that “every day we get closer” to his country normalising ties with Israel, while clarifying that the Palestinian issue is still a “very important” component of the process and declaring that Saudi Arabia will have to obtain a nuclear weapon if Iran does.