Israeli news channel Channel 13 is facing backlash after airing footage of its reporter visiting the Muslim holy city of Mecca, defying a longstanding ban imposed by Saudi authorities on the entry of all non- Muslims.
On Monday evening, the outlet aired a television report from its editor, Gil Tamary, who managed to enter the city and pass some of its most notable sights, including the Grand Mosque which houses the Kaaba in the shape of a cube, the holiest shrine in Islam.
But while the channel called Tamary’s visit a “significant journalistic achievement”, others – including in Israel – were less impressed, blaming Tamary and the channel for disrespecting Muslim tradition.
Tamary said on Tuesday that he deeply apologized for any offense caused, saying in a Tweeter that he had no intention of offending. The aim was to show the importance of Mecca and the beauty of the religion, he wrote, calling his visit “great journalism”.
Since the broadcast of the report, the Arab hashtag “Jew in the Haram” – referring to the Grand Mosque – trended on Twitter, with many users expressing outrage.
Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud, who has previously visited Israel and expressed strong support for normalization with the Jewish state, denounced the incident on Twitter.
“My dear friends in Israel, one of your reporters entered the Muslim holy city of Mecca and filmed without any shame. It’s like going into a synagogue and reading the Torah. Shame on you Channel 13, you should be ashamed of yourself for disrespecting Islam like this,” Saud said in a Hebrew-language video.
— محمد سعود מוחמד סעוד Mohammed Saud (@mosaud08) July 18, 2022
Tamary’s criticism was not limited to Muslims, with many Jewish-Israeli users sympathizing with Saud and demanding that Channel 13 be punished for the incident.
“I am ashamed of Tamary with all my heart. He doesn’t represent me, he doesn’t represent us. The Israeli people respect all religions and despise anyone who does so. I hope he will be punished with all the severity,” wrote a user identified as Rod Lior in response to Saud’s message.
“Mohammed, you are 100% right. This is absolutely disgusting. If you have read the reactions of Israelis to tweets about this, you will see that the overwhelming majority of Israelis agree with you and want to see the journalist and the TV channel severely punished,” wrote another user identifying as Israeli.
Ofra Lax, a religious Jewish Israeli journalist, also criticized Tamary, pointing to her lack of religious sensitivity.
“Respect for religion also begins with knowing and respecting your own religion, the religion of your own family, of your people, of your surroundings. Without that, you will never understand the religious. Without it, you will grossly trample other religions. Gil Tamary, what a disappointment,” she wrote.
Following the outrage, Channel 13 maintained its reporting but issued an apology “if anyone was offended”.
“Our editor Gil Tamary’s visit to Mecca is an important journalistic achievement, which was not intended to offend Muslims,” the channel said. “We apologize if anyone has been offended. To clarify: journalistic curiosity is the very soul of journalism. The principles of journalism are rooted in reaching anywhere and documenting events firsthand.
“These principles also guided us in this journalistic mission and allowed many viewers to have an almost direct first glimpse of this important place. This follows the excitement surrounding warming ties with the Saudis. We believe that getting to know a place firsthand only contributes to religious acceptance and dialogue from a place seeking to study and understand the beliefs of others.
מכה היא העיר הכי קדושה לאיסלאם ומוקפת בכניסתה במצלמות משוכללות כדי למנוע כניסה למ ever גיל תמרי היה לכתב הישראלי הראשון שהצליח להיכנס ולצאת למסע בעיר. ומה קרה כשחשדו בו? הכתבה המלאה – הערב במהדורה המרכזית@tamarygil pic.twitter.com/BzYKXP06P0
— חדשות 13 (@newsisrael13) July 18, 2022
Tamary tweeted on Tuesday afternoon that her visit to Makkah “was not intended to offend Muslims, or anyone else…The whole purpose of this endeavor was to highlight the importance of Makkah and beauty of religion”, and thus “to promote greater religious tolerance”. and inclusion.
Tamary added, “Curiosity is at the heart and center of journalism, and this kind of first-hand journalistic encounter is what separates good journalism from great journalism.”
Disclaimer: I would like to reiterate that this visit to Makkah was not intended to offend Muslims or anyone else. If anyone takes offense to this video, I deeply apologize. The aim of all this effort was to highlight the importance of Mecca and the beauty
— גיל תמרי (@tamarygil) July 19, 2022
Several Israeli journalists traveled to Saudi Arabia last week to cover US President Joe Biden’s visit, but Tamary was apparently the only one who entered Mecca.
Saudi Arabia rejected recognition of the Jewish state in 1948 and maintains this policy in part because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, that has started to change in recent years, with behind-the-scenes attempts to promote diplomatic and security cooperation in the face of the Iranian threat.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia announced it was opening its airspace to all civilian overflights, a move widely seen as part of US-brokered efforts to advance normalization steps between Jerusalem and Riyadh. The announcement came as Biden was visiting Israel, hours before heading to Jeddah and meeting with Saudi leaders.
However, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Saturday that Riyadh’s decision to open up its airspace had “nothing to do with diplomatic relations with Israel” and was “in no case a precursor of new measures” towards standardization.