Rabbi Yaakov Israel Herzog says he has hosted hundreds of tourists since opening Saudi Arabia’s first Chabad House about a year ago.
By Ben Rappaport, United with Israel
The first Chabad rabbi to set up a Chabad House in Saudi Arabia, Rabbi Yaakov Israel Herzog, is optimistic about the prospect of Jewish life in Saudi Arabia.
“Jews lived alongside Muslims in all the Muslim countries in the world, and there is no reason it shouldn’t work in Saudi Arabia,” he said, according to ynet.
The rabbi said he decided to establish a Chabad House in the country after noting changes taking place in the kingdom.
“Several years ago I was exposed to what was happening in the Saudi kingdom, in the new city that they’re developing, Neom, and also many projects surrounding tourism and economy,” he explained, according to ynet.
“I saw that the place was prospering tremendously, and it is much easier in the last five years to get there as a tourist.
“I saw many people starting to arrive there, and many Jews from the U.S., from Europe and similar places coming to work there,” he added.
“I decided to come and see it up close… I voluntarily decided that I need to start being there for all those Jews that come to live or visit.”
According to the rabbi, since setting up his Chabad House around a year ago, he has hosted hundreds of tourists.
He is positive about treatment of Jews in the kingdom.
“When you see the treatment the Jews receive in the kingdom, of respect and appreciation, and you see that they allow me to do what I do – I think that speaks for itself. It’s unrelated to an agreement with Israel,” he said.
“Jews lived alongside Muslims in all the Muslim countries in the world, and there is no reason it shouldn’t work in Saudi Arabia.”
“They respect us and we respect them,” he added, according to ynet.
Despite indications of a warming in ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, such as the Saudis last year permitting Israeli flights over their airspace, the two countries do not have an official normalization agreement.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia in March announced a renewal of diplomatic ties with Iran. In April, Iran reportedly invited Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz to visit the country
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the growing ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, warning that “those who partner with Iran partner with misery.”
At the same time, he opined that Riyadh-Tehran rapprochement “has very little to do with Israel.”
“I think it has very little to do with Israel. I think it has probably a lot more to do with the desire to de-escalate or even eliminate the long-standing conflict in Yemen,” he said.
On Thursday, US President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan said that a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia “is a declared national security interest of the United States.”
“Now as a sign of my seriousness about how much we’re focused on this, and how seriously we are taking this, I am not going to say anything further lest I upset the efforts we are undertaking on this issue,” he added, according to Reuters.
The comments were on Friday praised by Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi.
“A normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia is a central goal in Israel’s foreign policy. We hope that there will be a breakthrough soon,” he told Israel’s Channel 13.
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