A small but significant breakthrough: Israel's flag raised and national anthem publicly performed for the first time in Saudi Arabia
With Joe Biden's incompetent diplomatic team driving away Saudi Arabia and into the eager hands of Xi Jinping, I'll eagerly celebrate any good news coming from the regime in Riyadh. And despite many hedges and limitations imposed on its prominence, this story from the Times of Israel is worth noting (hat tip: Tom Gross):
The Israeli national anthem "Hatikva" was played [last] week at a rehearsal for the opening ceremony for the video game version of the FIFA World Cup in Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis reportedly prevented the anthem from being played during the ceremony itself.
At the general rehearsal for the opening ceremony of the FIFAe World Cup finals, the three gamers from Israel were filmed singing the national anthem and holding the Israeli flag.
But according to Kan news, the Saudis decided at the last moment not to broadcast teams with their anthems, and also refused to hand over a recording of the rehearsal to the Israeli delegation.
Here is a video, with captions noting the limitations imposed on visibility, of the historic half-step:
Never thought it would happen, but miracles do happen. The Israeli national anthem "Hatikva", which means hope in English, was played in during the FIFA tournament in Saudi Arabia. 🇮🇱❤️🇸🇦#Israel #FIFA23 #SaudiArabia #MiddleEast pic.twitter.com/36A6yNVPvt— Ayelet Azoury (@azoury_ayelet) July 14, 2023
While I had never heard of the FIFA World Cup tournament, it turns out to be a fairly high-profile event for the hundreds of millions (billions?) of people worldwide who devote substantial attention to videogames. FIFA takes the videogame competition for soccer seriously enough to endorse it, and Saudi Arabia's "sportswashing" strategy does, too. The prize money for the tournament is a million dollars, and Israel's team — second-ranked in the world — has a good chance to win or place highly.
In understanding Saudi Arabia's strategy in unmistakably moving toward normalization with Israel, baby steps are the rule of the game. The regime, autocratic as it may be, has to guard against enraging the Muslim clergy, especially in the hinterlands, who have been fed a diet of Jew-hatred for generations. They want to avoid sermons firing up mosque congregants and driving them into the streets in protest. Thus, they have now established a precedent that can be used to further unveil in the future more publicly the notion that flying the Israeli flag and performing its national anthem is a perfectly normal thing to do.
Small though it may be, this step is important.
Never let it be forgotten that this path toward reconciliation with Saudi Arabia and even diplomatic and trade/investment relations with other Arab and Muslim states is the product of the Trump administration, a legacy that continues to benefit Israel and the United States.
Photo credit: Twitter video screen grab.