Prominent figures from 15 Arab countries met in London last week to reject the BDS movement and encourage relations with Israel.
At the same time last week, a delegation of Arab journalists, bloggers and musicians toured Israel at the invitation of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Some of the journalists were from countries with no diplomatic relations with Israel.
BDS stands for Boycott, Sanction and Divest. It is an anti-Semitic movement against the state of Israel devised to strangle the Jewish state economically.
Participants in the London meeting hailed from Morocco, Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and the Persian Gulf states and included journalists, artists, politicians, diplomats, Quranic scholars, women and young people.
The meeting was publicized only after its participants returned to their native countries. The New York Times was allowed to post a live stream of the meeting (held in Arabic) after the event.
The London meeting was sponsored by the Center for Peace Communications, an organization that “works through media, schools, and centers of spiritual and moral leadership in the Middle East and North Africa to roll back divisive ideologies and foster a mindset of inclusion and engagement.”
The Times reported that the group in London agreed that “[BDS] has only helped [Israel] while damaging Arab nations that have long shunned the Jewish state. Demonizing Israel has cost Arab nations billions in trade.”
Mustafa el-Dessouki, an Egyptian who is the managing editor of the prominent news magazine, Majalla (which is funded by Saudi Arabia), was one of the main organizers of the meeting.
In recent travels around the Middle East, Dessouki said met many Arabs with similar views to his, including citizens of Lebanon. This was in spite of the fact that the Arab news media and entertainment industry have long been “programming people toward this hostility” against Israel and Jews, he said, while politicians were “intimidating and scaring people into manifesting it.”
Meanwhile, in Israel last week, the visiting delegation included journalists from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Egypt.
The trip was organized by Hassan Kaabia, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s spokesman for the Arabic media. “My goal is to bring people here to get to know the real Israel, to see it first hand, and not through television or social media, and see how Israel is unjustly slandered,” he said.
Kaabia brought a similar delegation to Israel last summer.
He said he met the journalists on Twitter and didn’t know if their governments knew their citizens were visiting Israel.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one of the journalists, who was described as a prominent figure in Saudi Arabia, said, “There is no escape from establishing normal relations with Israel.”
By “normal relations,” he said he meant “real peace,” not the peace that is currently seen between the Egyptian and Jordanian governments with Israel, which he criticized for fomenting hate against Israel.
In regards to the Palestinian issue, the Saudi said, “Why should the Arab world ignite problems with Israel and the super-powers because of a small minority? This minority had a chance to form a state in ’47 but refused because it only dealt with the question, ‘Why do the Jews have an independent country?’”
When asked about his experience touring Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, he said, “When people heard I am from Saudi Arabia, they were amazed. Not in a hostile manner, but by accepting who I was.
“I love the Jewish people and all the citizens of Israel,” he concluded in Hebrew.