Recently a hullabaloo was unleashed when it was learned that Delta Airlines had made arrangements for Saudi Air to be included in its SkyTeam program. The conditions for this contract were that Delta would not allow Jews to fly on Delta flights connecting to Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, Saudi law forbade any non-Moslem (read Dhimmi) religious texts or articles to be brought into Saudi Arabia. Women are banned from flying alone into Saudi Arabia unless to be met at the airport by a chaperone. Moreover, Saudi dress codes apply to all women entering the kingdom. For years it is known that Saudi Arabia does not allow anyone to enter without a visa. It has also been known that Jews are not allowed visas into that country. A Jewish sounding name is usually sufficient for a visa to be denied.
Delta might be the current target for communal response, but the target should be shifted. The real target should be the Federal Aviation Authority that oversees all air traffic in the United States, and also oversees the relationships with overseas carriers. While Americans would assume that no American carrier would deny them the right to travel because of race, religion or creed, that ban does not hold in other countries, particularly theocracies. Still, why consternation about Delta? Its action facilitates a new avenue to make money, but changes nothing in the trenches. It is doubtful that Delta would overtly attempt to offend millions of Jewish air travelers with an act that is easily construed as anti-Semitic or anti-Christian. The apparent novelty of the Delta planned practice is that since virtually all Delta flights could ultimately connect with a flight to Saudi Arabia, that Delta is effectively planning to bar all Jewish travelers, a move that seems strange at least, and potentially harmful to its shareholders. Perhaps some well worded messages to Delta would alert the company of its error and lead the company to at least reconsider if not reverse a poorly made decision.
That said, though, the real trouble is with the FAA. Why should the USA as a sovereign state allow any foreign nation to deny our travelers passage? And why would anyone who did not hold a Saudi visa plan to go there in any event?
To me there is no answer, but I do have some thoughts on Saudi rules.
Perhaps the ibn Sauds are just checking how much they can influence American life and disrupt it. The Saudi led OPEC oil embargoes are not so distant in the past to forget the effectiveness of that action.
The matter of female dress is a red herring. Can you imagine Secretary of State Clinton commissioning a fashionable burka for when she needs to meet in Riyadh with the Saudi Foreign Minister? While the Saudis may prefer their women in burkas, they make exceptions as necessary.
As for allowing no Jews into Saudi Arabia, I well remember that Jewish troops were stationed there during Desert Storm, among them at least one Jewish chaplain. I know that neither Dennis Ross nor Henry Kissinger was required to convert to Islam to negotiate there. Even Saudi Arabia has difficulty being judenrein when Jews are needed.
But why is there any anti-Jewish rule at all? What Saudi fear promotes such a restriction?
One thought is that Saudis are afraid that Jews know the Koran too well. Being familiar with Sura 59, Jews will demand the right of return to Medina. For less informed people, that Koran section describes how Muhammad and his armies expelled Jews from Arabia in 725 CE. If Jews are permitted to visit Saudi Arabia they may demand the right to live in Medina after nearly 1300 years away. Or perhaps they fear that once in Saudi Arabia, the Jews would have access to Saudi courts and are able to demand huge reparations. To think, they may be scared that the Jews would move out of Israel and take over Arabia? Or worse, in pursuit of Mohammed’s policies, Arabs exiled Jews from many of their lands. Oh my God, the Arabs may be afraid that Jews will not only keep control of Israel but take control of all of Western Asia and North Africa!
Another possibility, they are not sure who Jews are anymore. There was a time when one could tell who was Jewish by one’s name, at least theoretically. In my lifetime I have met Jews with very non-Jewish surnames as Christiansen, Townsend, Miller and Ruiz. One can never quite be sure who is Jewish and who not by a name alone. A business associate when I lived in Florida was an active Catholic employed by the local archdiocese. His name was Bernie Schwartz. If one cannot tell by a name, and if American documents do not mention religious affiliation, the Saudis might be afraid that they will be over-run. This could be potentially devastating to its concepts of government and legitimacy, and smacks of what is going on in Europe by Saudi co-religionists.
A third possibility is that while Saudi educational standards may be higher than those of other Arab states, they are nowhere near the level of supremacy that Moslem scholars enjoyed hundreds of years ago when Moslems gave the world algebra, chemistry, architecture, belles letters, and philosophical texts. With an influx of too many educated people, Saudi Arabia might be forced to forsake its leadership in the third world, deny the prejudice and ignorance that have lately colored the Arab culture, at least as it is generally portrayed in Western media, and return to the cultured ways of a too distant past. After all it is a fact, that nearly 100% of all adult Jews are college educated. Too many Jews may damage a Saudi self image as a backward, third world country with too much money for its own good.
As for denying religious texts into the country, I am puzzled. With a theocratic government controlling the education of all citizens, who would use the books? While Islam allows “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians) to maintain religious lives if they pay taxes for that permission, that exception no longer seems to obtain. Absent it, who is there in Saudi Arabia to use the texts? Ah, perhaps the American government officials who could not study Torah nor daven while visiting. Without Torah to study or siddurim to pray, American Jewish government officials might be more easily convinced to take on Islam. Perhaps without Christian Bibles, Psalters and hymnals the same would be a problem for Christian American officials. Even one at a time would bring another Moslem into the world.
It is time to downplay the mishigas with Delta. A well advised word to that company may bring a reversal. Let’s instead deal with the FAA. At the least it would bring back freedom of the skies. At the most it might bring non Saudis a new abundance of petroleum reserves. Believe that is the real reason, and I have a bridge for sale.