Israeli government officials are satisfied with statements made by a national news network and its reporter apologizing for broadcasting an illegal visit to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, a Jerusalem source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.
Sunday’s visit to Mecca by Channel 13’s Gil Tamary violated Saudi law, which bars non-Muslims from the city. It sparked an immediate uproar, with the topic still trending on social media for users in the Middle East as of Wednesday night.
On Tuesday — a day after the report aired — both Channel 13 and Tamary issued statements saying they apologized if the segment had offended Muslims, but stood by the decision to air it, calling it a significant journalistic achievement. The 10-minute report showed that Tamary was driven into the city by a local who agreed to sneak him into Mecca. He filmed himself climbing Mount Arafat before quickly turning back after arousing the suspicion of several guards at the holy site.
The Israeli government has declined to comment on the broadcast, but the source familiar with the matter suggested it had caused a headache for Jerusalem, which has sought to warm and eventually normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. It is a goal that Israeli and US officials have acknowledged will not be realized in the near future, and Riyadh’s foreign minister also dumped cold water on the idea last weekend. But some analysts, citing widespread Muslim outrage, argued that Tamary’s visit may have further complicated normalization efforts,
The source who spoke to The Times of Israel declined to comment on whether the government had been involved in the decisions by Channel 13 and Tamary to issue the apology statements.
Earlier on Wednesday, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej condemned the TV report as “stupid”.
מקה היא האיר הכי קדושה לאיסלאם ומוקפת בקישים לקמירה משוכלות to prevent login without rental. גיל תמרי היה לכתב ישראלים אישראלי ישערים שה שעקים עשוע ולשעת למסע ביראים. And what happened when he suspected it? האקרטה מלאה – הארב במדורה אשראת@tamarygil pic.twitter.com/BzYKXP06P0
— News 13 (@newsisrael13) 18 July 2022
“I think it was stupidity, … completely out of place [and] just [done] for ratings,” Frej, who is the second Muslim minister in Israeli history, told public broadcaster Kan. Frej also argued that the segment would damage the prospects for Saudi-Israeli normalization.
“This is a holy place for Muslims,” Frej said. “What was the point? You want a report from there, send a Muslim journalist!… The damage from this will be significant.”
Tamary was one of only three members of the Israeli press allowed into Saudi Arabia to cover the GCC+3 summit this weekend.
Saudi Arabia rejected recognition of the Jewish state in 1948 and maintains this policy in part because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, that began to change in recent years, with behind-the-scenes efforts to promote diplomatic and security cooperation in the face of the Iranian threat.
Disclaimer: I would like to reiterate that this visit to Mecca was not intended to offend Muslims, or any other person. If anyone is offended by this video, I sincerely apologize. The purpose of this whole endeavor was to showcase the importance of Mecca and its beauty
— גיל תמרי (@tamarygil) 19 July 2022
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia announced it was opening its airspace to all civilian overflights, in a move widely seen as part of efforts by US brokers to promote normalization steps between Jerusalem and Riyadh. The announcement came while US President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, hours before he traveled to Jeddah and met with Saudi leaders.
However, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Saturday that Riyadh’s decision to open its airspace had “nothing to do with diplomatic ties with Israel” and was “in no way a precursor to further steps” towards normalization.