JENNI FRAZER: The House of Saud rules in a way that has no place today

JENNI FRAZER: The House of Saud rules in a way that has no place today

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

By Columnist, Jenni Frazer

Jewish News columnist Jenni Frazer
Jewish News columnist Jenni Frazer

There are times – and this has certainly been one of them – when the aphorism that Jews are news is beginning to exhaust everyone. From the atrocities of Paris to the memorialising of the Shoah, there has scarcely been a moment lately when we are not on screen, on radio, or in the papers.

Some of the coverage has been good and positive, although there is a certain wryness in the thought that some of the climate of opinion that has allowed the anti-Semitism genie out of its lamp has been created by the very media now piously denouncing it. Yes, it’s double standards: as Jews, we often feel we are held to account differently, at a higher moral measure than others, as though we, with all our many flaws, ought to know better. Well, perhaps we ought.

I was thinking about double standards this week in particular, as I watched and read the responses to the death of the 90-year-old ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah.

Quite apart from the British government, currently chasing a lucrative prison contract from the Saudis, falling over itself to bow and scrape, with flags at half-mast at Westminster Abbey and the Foreign Office (why?), the response from, of all people, the Israelis has been little short of astonishing.

These are the words of President Reuven Rivlin: “I was saddened to hear of the passing of King Abdullah. He was an example of grounded, considered and responsible leadership, with deep religious tradition. As Guardian of the Holy Places of Islam, King Abdullah acted as a moderator, respecting the sensitivity and sanctity of Jerusalem and sought to promote a vision of prosperity for the region. His wise policies contributed greatly to the region and to the stability of the Middle East.”

And here are the words of his predecessor as president, Shimon Peres: the king’s death, he said, was “a loss for peace, a wise king who had the bravery to put forth a peace plan”.

While it is indeed true that the Saudis proposed a peace plan in 2002, to date none of it has been fulfilled. And while it may also be true that an anxious Israel, nervous of letting go of the hand of nurse for fear of finding something worse, may have been covering its back with the presidential emollient praise for the dead king, the fact is that the House of Saud ruled and rules in a way that surely has no place in the 21st century.

Now, for all I know, Messrs Rivlin and Peres could have been having secret keffiyeh-wrapped meetings in the desert with Abdullah while they all spoke of the glorious future to come.

But I doubt it. Instead, though Western nations suck up to Saudi as the apparent spearhead in the war against terror, the real terror victims appear to me to be ordinary Saudi citizens – the women not allowed to drive, or go anywhere in public unattended by a male chaperone; Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for running a liberal blog; endless stories of torture, persecution of minorities, and a shocking 76 people beheaded by the regime between January and November 2014.

When David Cameron speaks of barbarism and brutality when the evil ISIS beheads hostages, why is he so silent about Saudi behaviour? Saudi Arabia, of course, is not the only dodgy neighbour in Israel’s vicinity.

Only last Saturday, the police forces in Cairo, ruthlessly silencing a demonstration marking the fourth anniversary of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, shot dead a 32-year-old woman, Shaima al-Sabbagh, the mother of a five-year-old boy. And the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is a friend of Israel’s, or, rather, not a designated enemy, partly because he replaced the even worse Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, which, of course, needed no excuse to denounce Israel at every turn.

But Israel says nothing, and instead lavishes praise on Abdullah.

I know that there are diplomatic niceties to be observed and I am aware that Israel has to step delicately in the minefield of the Middle East. Just once, however, I longed for Israel – bursting with internal domestic difficulties, facing yet another election in March, anticipating a huge throng of angry and frightened French (and possibly Greek) Jews – to tell the truth.

That truth being that Abdullah could have, and should have, done so much more for his people before he earned the right to tell Israel how to behave. And to remember that double standards are far too pervasive to accept meekly.

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