Why the Saudi Crown Prince's First Official Meeting With Jewish Leaders Is Such a Big Deal

Saudi Arabia has no public churches, temples or synagogues and importing crosses and other non-Islamic religious imagery - including the Star of David - is banned

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud is seen during a meeting with U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. March 27, 2018
REUTERS/Amir Levy

Saudi Arabia officially announced Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s first meetings with Jewish religious leaders. On Wednesday, Prince Mohammed, often referred to as MBS, met with Rabbi Richard Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Steven Wernick, head of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Allen Fagin, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, the Saudi embassy said according to Bloomberg.

“The meeting emphasized the common bond among all people, particularly people of faith, which stresses the importance of tolerance, coexistence, and working together for a better future for all of humanity,” the embassy said.

>> Saudi Arabia's Jew-friendly face is just a mirage / Opinion ■ Saudi Arabia's Jew-hating founder would be shocked by his Kingdom's flirtation with Israel / Opinion

MBS was reportedly set to meet U.S. Jewish leaders on Tuesday with various Jewish groups represented at the meeting.

The Wednesday meeting is not the first time a Saudi leader has officially met with a rabbi as the late King Abdullah met New York-based Rabbi Marc Schneier on multiple occasions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last Sunday that last week's inauguration of Air India direct flights to Israel over Saudi Arabia creates "huge" potential for Israel with "significant" and "long-term implications."

"The significance is clear to everyone," the prime minister said at his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, adding that the implications, which he called "of the first degree," have economic and diplomatic implications as well an impact relating to tourism and technology.

Public observance in Saudi Arabia of religions other than Islam is illegal, forcing Christian worshippers to risk arrest by praying in their homes. The country has no public churches, temples or synagogues and importing crosses and other non-Islamic religious imagery - including the Star of David - is banned.  However, MBS’s reforms have led to a loosening of restrictions which included Christmas trees being publicly displayed in the capital, Riyadh, for the first time last year.

MBS has been promoting religions tolerance and a more “moderate Islam” as part of his “Vision 2030” reform project. In early March, MBS met the head of the Anglican church in London and promised to promote interfaith dialogue as part of his domestic reforms, the British faith leader's office said.

MBS was making an official visit to London to promote Saudi Arabia as a tolerant, modernising economy and build a wider trade and investment relationship with Britain, a long-term defence ally.

The Archbishop shared his concern about limits placed on Christian worship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and highlighted the importance for leaders of all faiths to support freedom of religion or belief, drawing on the experience of the UK."