The Saudi government’s official tourism web site in 2004 listed four groups of people who would be denied visas regardless:
- Israelis and anyone with a passport “that has an Israeli arrival/departure stamp.”
- Those who don’t abide by Saudi traditions, and those under the influence of alcohol.
- Non-Muslims intending to go to Mecca or Medina, where non-Muslims are banned.
- “Jewish people.”
Saudis Feign Surprise at Their Racism
The Saudi government, through its ambassador to the United States, Bandar bin Sultan, feigned surprise—first at the ban on Jews itself, which the embassy called a “mistake,” then at Weiner for continuing to press the issue. “At this time, we should be working toward greater understanding and better relations between the United States and the Middle East,” Bandar said in a statement. “Rep. Weiner and his actions only serve to spread doubt and mistrust.”
Of course, Weiner was only raising valid questions. It was the Saudi government’s “actions” that warranted the spreading of doubt and mistrust. The ban on jews was removed. Not so the ban on Israelis. Not so the ban on anyone with an Israeli stamp in his or her passport. Not so the question, in the Saudi visa application, regarding the applicant’s religion, which is entirely unnecessary except as a filter enabling discrimination.
And whether the explicit 2004 ban on Jews was explicit or not, all evidence points to an open history (or “tradition,” as the apologists might put it) of Saudi discrimination against Jews. What’s worse: The United States government officially agreed to abide by the bigoted policy going back to the 1950s, and continued to do so during the Clinton and second Bush administrations.
1956: Truman and Eisenhower Administrations Agree to Saudi Ban on Jews
In 1951, the United States and Saudi Arabia signed a pact allowing the stationing of 1,000 American troops on Saudi soil in Dhahran, where Americans built an air field.
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in February 1956, Sen. Hubert Humphrey, the Minnesota Democrat (and, eventually, Lyndon Johnson’s vice president and the 1968 Democratic Party nominee for president against Richard Nixon), much like Weiner half a century later, called attention to a startling fact. No Jews were serving among the 1,000 American troops in Saudi Arabia. Worse: Jews were not allowed to serve there by the Saudi government. Still worse: The American government willingly provided the Saudis with detailed lists of American personnel to ensure that the Saudis Could ban whom they wished.
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, appearing before the committee, said that the agreement had been negotiated during the Truman administration, and that there had been “centuries of animosities toward Jews” in Saudi Arabia.
Dulles was wrong about the animosity’s carbon-dating: Jews and Christians going back to Prophet Muhammad’s time were granted special, if not equal, privileges under Islam, and Jewish communities lived and thrived throughout the Middle East until early in the 20th century, when they began migrating to Israel, then 1948, when the first Arab-Israeli war sundered what amity had existed between Jews and Arabs on most Arab soil. Israel’s creation resulted in outright persecution and discrimination against Jews in Arab countries, Saudi Arabia included.
How the United States Justified Being Party to Saudi Bigotry
“We don’t like to acquiesce,” Dulles went on in his Senate testimony on Feb. 24, 1956, “but we have to recognize that Saudi Arabia is an ally. […] That doesn’t mean, however, that we approve of its practices.
But the American government not only approved. It facilitated it. The 1951 agreement read:
It is provided that there must not be among members of the mission or among other employees any individual who is objectionable to the Saudi Arabian Government, and that the Government of the United States will submit a detailed list of the names and identity of these personnel and employees.As The New York Times reported in its account of Dulles’s testimony, “Officials said that it was clear at the time that the Saudis would request the prompt withdrawal of any persons of Jewish faith who were sent to their country.”
If the Saudi Arabian government requests the mission to send out or replace any of its personnel or employees whom the Saudi Government does not desire to remain in the country, the mission will carry out such request promptly.
Humphrey protested the virtual ban and the American government’s role in it, noting that the ban extended to oil workers and journalists, whose companies complied with it, too.
1975: California Spurns Saudi Bigotry, Cancels Job Deal
If the federal government played along with Saudi Arabian racism, California refused to. In 1975, the Californian economy was hurting. Some 2,800 state highway workers were facing layoffs due to budget cuts. Saudi Arabia was in the middle of a massive building boom (much of it directed and executed by the Bin Laden Group, headed by Osama bin laden’s father).
California Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. saw an opportunity for his highway workers. He entered into negotiations with the Saudi government and worked out a $25 million job program that would send 200 Californian state workers to Saudi Arabia.
In November 1975, however, Brown suspended all negotiations as civil rights groups and state officials were outraged at Saudi Arabia’s demands that no “Zionists” be included among the workers.
“It is hard to tell exactly what they mean by Zionists even after a week of talks with the U.S. State Department and Saudi representatives,” J. Anthony Kline, the governor’s legal secretary, says at the time. “A lot of euphemisms and abstract concepts were thrown around. But in the end, I think that realistically speaking the Saudi Government defines Zionists as all Jews.”