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Saudis outraged after news outlet marks Jewish holiday

Saudi Arabia has yet to formally address normalisation [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 September, 2020

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Social media users in Saudi Arabia were left outraged after semi-state owned platform Arab News appeared to indirectly support normalisation with Israel.
A Saudi news site sparked outrage this week after launching a social media campaign to celebrate a Jewish holiday, amid heightened tensions triggered by neighbouring Gulf states United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalisation of ties with Israel.

Saudi-owned Arab News changed its social media branding to wish a happy Jewish new year in Hebrew, changing its profile images and banners on its verified accounts.

The move triggered outrage online with activists who suggested it was the kingdom’s indirect approval of the UAE and Bahrain’s normalisation with Israel, which it has yet to publicly support or condemn.

"Doesn't this newspaper contradict the positions of Saudi Arabia regarding the Israeli occupation state? Is this a violation of the state's regulations and its stances and directions? I mean, the newspaper celebrates the Jewish holiday?" one Saudi twitter user said, referring to the English-language daily published in Riyadh.

"Saudi Arabia begins with the soft tools of normalisation through famous personalities and media channels," another user said.

"Arab News expresses a lot of love for Israel," one comment read.

The flurry of negative responses quickly prompted the account to remove the profile and banner images, replacing it instead with graphics to celebrate its 45th anniversary.

The move comes amid reports of difference in opinion between Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who wants to follow in the footsteps of the UAE and Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites, is unlikely to make a similar deal with Israel immediately, as doing so without a resolution to the Palestinian issue would be seen as a betrayal of the cause and hurt its image as leader of the Muslim world.

The agreements, signed symbolically in the White House, have been condemned by many across the Arab world.

The Palestinians view the pacts as a stab in the back from their fellow Arabs in the Gulf and a betrayal of their cause for a Palestinian state.

Saudi Arabia's leading newspapers dedicated celebratory front pages to the normalisation agreement between Israel, UAE and Bahrain following the signing ceremony.

Arab News led with the front page headline: "Salam... Shalom... Peace!" and a large photo of the dignitaries signing papers outside the White House.

The gushing article covering the signing ceremony, concluded with the words: "They signed the Accord. The crowd applauded. History was made."

The paper was among several outlets to praise the normalisation agreement, referring to it as a "peace deal".

The articles in the heavily state-controlled press came despite muted reactions to the agreement from the kingdom's leaders.

The Arabic-language Saudi newspaper Okaz also celebrated the run-up to the signing with the headline: "Writing a history of peace".

Okaz quoted part of Donald Trump's speech, in which he said that the agreement heralds a "new dawn for the Middle East".

Al-Riyadh carried a statement by Saudi King Salman on its front page, emphasising the kingdom's "steadfast" support for the Palestinian cause.

It reported on the signing ceremony, highlighting UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed's quote that the agreement "will help the Palestinians".

Read also: Bahrain's normalisation deal with Israel is lots of risk for little gain

In an article titled "The choice of peace", the Al-Riyadh newspaper laid out Bahrain's motives behind joining the agreement, including finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as economic, security, military and technological benefits. It also highlighted the "constant threat" of Iran to Manama and Abu Dhabi.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat led with the headline "The Gulf and Israel... The fall of the wall," while highlighting Trump's statement that a number of Arab countries will follow suit in normalising relations with Israel.

Critics have labelled the agreements as a public relations exercise for US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and leaders of Gulf countries which helps to perpetuate Israel's occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza.

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