UAE ambassador to Israel outrages Arab world with remarks on Jerusalem ‘madness’ following rabbi meeting
The UAE’s ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Khajah has caused outrage after controversial remarks on recent Israeli violence in Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem during a recent meeting with Rabbi Shalom Cohen, the spiritual leader of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Shas movement.
Israel’s public broadcaster Kan reported that Al-Khajah said during Sunday's meeting that recent events in Jerusalem were "crazy" and needed "the wisdom" of Rabbi Cohen.
Al-Khajah went on to take aim at pan-Arab news network Al Jazeera, saying it had "stirred up madness" during Israel's recent deadly assault on the Gaza Strip, which killed 254 Palestinians including 66 children.
"Unfortunately some TV channels, some people from Al Jazeera or from the Muslim Brotherhood are trying to show this in our part of the world," the ambassador said.
Al-Khajah added that when he first arrived in Tel Aviv, he was shocked to find a mosque there and found this to be a different image of Israel than that presented by Al Jazeera and other channels, despite the building pre-dating the creation of the state.
Palestinian journalist Khaled Jomaa pointed out in a Facebook post that the mosque was not actually in Tel Aviv but in Jaffa, a Palestinian city that was cleared of most of its inhabitants when Israel was established in 1948 and is now administered by Tel Aviv municipality.
"A small piece of information for the Emirati ambassador who was shocked by the presence of a mosque in Tel Aviv. This mosque is not in Tel Aviv - you probably meant the Hassan Bek Mosque which is in the Palestinian city of Jaffa which was swallowed by Tel Aviv," he said.
"It is an ancient mosque going back to the Ottoman era in Palestine… and the area around it is now empty because all the landmarks of the Manshiyah district surrounding it were destroyed."
Jomaa added that the mosque had been threatened with demolition by Israeli authorities and attacked by Jewish extremists.
Wishing Israel ‘strength’
In a video of his meeting with Rabbi Cohen, the UAE ambassador was heard wishing Israel "strength" following the Gaza bombardment, which saw more than 250 Palestinians killed in airstrikes including dozens of children.
"We hope that you will go back to your strength and we will go back to our strength, for the sake of the whole region," he told the rabbi.
The Twitter account "Israel in Arabic", which is run by the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs, said that Al-Khajah received a "rabbinic blessing" from Cohen.
زار اليوم سفير الإمارات لدى اسرائيل @AmbAlKhaja— إسرائيل بالعربية (@IsraelArabic) May 30, 2021
رئيس مجلس حكماء التوراة الحاخام الاكبر شالوم كوهين في منزله في اورشليم حيث تلقى منه بركة الكهنة ودار الحديث عن الإتفاقات الإبراهيمية كما تبادلا الهدايا الرمزية ودعا السفير الحاخام لافتتاحية معبد الديانات الإبراهيمية ال3 بابو ظبي pic.twitter.com/O05FCv51vx
The UAE normalised relations with Israel in September 2020, signing a treaty known as the Abraham Accords.
Since then the two countries have signed a dizzying array of cooperation agreements in fields ranging from banking to filmmaking.
The recent 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza, which ended on May 21, happened after Hamas fired rockets into Israel after Israeli security forces assaulted Palestinian worshippers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Israel has recently carried out a campaign of harassment and intimidation against Palestinians in Jerusalem, coinciding with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Israeli forces prevented the Muslim call to prayer from being issued at the beginning of the month and stopped worshippers from breaking their fast at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
In April, Israeli extremists under police protection marched through occupied East Jerusalem chanting "Death to Arabs" and assaulting and injuring a hundred Palestinians. Israel has also threatened to expel Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem.
'Arabs in charge' of Al-Aqsa
According to Kan, Rabbi Cohen spoke out against Israeli provocations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third most holy site in Islam.
"The issue of the Temple Mount isn't for us. The Arabs are in charge there," he told Al-Khajah, using an Israeli term for the sacred site.
However, Israeli extremists regularly storm the Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard, saying that the mosque should be destroyed and the ancient Jewish Jerusalem Temple should be built in its place.
There are differences within the Jewish community on the issue, with many ultra-Orthodox Jews saying that Jews should never enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque and its grounds.
Cohen’s right-wing Shas Party has its support base among ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi Jews, who originally came to Israel from Arab countries, and currently hold nine seats in the Israeli Knesset.
Shas' founder, Iraqi-born Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who died in 2013, made several violently racist statements against Palestinians once saying: "Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world. God should strike them with a plague", in a reference to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.