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Congress chief Jack Rosen: Saudi and Qatar want closer Israel links

President of American Jewish Congress says his recent Middle East tour showed him Arab countries are keen to engage more with Jewish people

    Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress
    Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress Getty Images

    Saudi Arabia and Qatar have a “clear and absolute” desire for closer engagement with Israel and the Jewish people, the president of the influential American Jewish Congress has said.

    Jack Rosen told the JC he had witnessed a “sea change” in attitude and opinion from leaders of both countries after holding meetings in Doha and Riyadh over recent weeks.

    Speaking during a brief visit to London, Mr Rosen said there had been significant improvements in Israel’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Qatar – even though the two Arab countries remain embroiled in a dispute with one another.

    “I frequently travel through the region – and I was in Doha, Qatar before arriving in London and a few weeks before that I was in Riyadh.

    “There is a clear and absolute difference in outlook and a clear desire to have more engagement with Israel and with the Jews.

    “We know there is also some level of dialogue and interaction between Israel and the Gulf States. Prime Minister Netanyahu has also changed his attitude and is openly reaching out and attempting dialogue with the Gulf States.

    “Does that result in a peace deal with the Palestinians? That is hard – I know that.

    “But it will definitely result in longer term dialogue and trade [with] the Arab states. I think that will happen sooner rather than later.”

    Mr Rosen pointed to an occurrence during his recent stay in Qatar. He asked one senior leader about a recent statement by organisers of the 2022 World Cup tournament in Qatar suggesting Israelis would be welcome there as fans if their country qualified.

    “I asked if the statement calling for Israelis to come was some kind of accident,” he said. “I was told ‘absolutely not’ and that I should make sure I repeated it.

    “That’s a big thing for the Qataris.

    “And when I was in Riyadh I again engaged with people in the leadership. In my role as President of the Congress it’s no secret I am Jewish, but they engaged with me in public as well as in private. There’s a real sea change going on.”

    Mr Rosen and the American Jewish Congress – which aims to protect Jewish interests at home and abroad using diplomacy, advocacy and the courts – have enjoyed strong links with previous US leaders President Obama and the Clinton regime.

    He says the new Trump administration will “take time to develop” and is filled with “many new players”.

    “New administrations always take time to develop,” says Mr Rosen. “Clinton had his problems. The one difference here is that there aren’t as many seasoned veterans on policy who we have got to know over the years in this Trump administration.”

    Some American Jews have been impressed by President Trump’s openly pro-Israeli stance, Mr Rosen accepted, but he stressed this had not changed strongly pro-Democrat voting patterns within the Jewish community.

    “I don’t think the needle moved so far as the Jewish vote is concerned,” he said of the most recent US election result.

    “I recall at one point President Bush believing he had secured the Jewish vote because he had been so pro-Israel. I said to him that it didn’t work like that. I said at the end of the day American Jews are Americans – in the same way British Jews are British.

    “We worry about our future for our children, our countries, our values. Jews for all of those reasons tend to be more progressive and liberal. We don’t like to be tested by only the Israeli question.”

    He says it’s a path now being taken by Arab states around the Persian Gulf as well as Saudi Arabia.

    “The next generation of Jews and Muslims are going to be very different than before. “They will realise there is no point engaging in war. They will be engaging and talking with one another.”

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