The visit by its foreign news editor Gil Tamary to Mecca “was a great journalistic achievement,” according to the official statement from Channel 13 News. The statement pertained to his report which was broadcast on Monday, providing viewers a close-up view of the Muslim holy city.
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So far, it’s a fascinating story. In his report, Tamary discussed the risk he took to get there. “Mecca is the holy city of Islam, and this city is closed to any non-Muslim. It is practically impossible to enter,” he solemnly pronounced. Then he went on to describe his tremendous coup: “But I managed to find the right person who agreed to risk it and take me on the journey.”
For a moment, Tamary sounded like one of those nature researchers on National Geographic TV who take viewers on a journey to hidden places where no human being has ever set foot before. Note that not long ago – this past April – the Saudi Hajj Ministry called on worshippers not to use cameras inside the mosque in Mecca and halted the broadcasting of the prayer services in the media, which was once customary during the month of Ramadan. This call reflects the Saudis’ desire to respect and maintain the holiness of the site and not intrude on worshippers’ privacy.
But none of that was of any concern to Tamary as he went after his supposed journalistic scoop and sought to bask in the euphoria of it. Therefore, the big social media fuss regarding Tamary’s reporting, particularly to his boasting about being the first Jewish journalist to come to Mecca, is understandable. Tamary blatantly broke the law right on camera, angering Saudi Muslims. The Saudis’ fury over this incident is all the more notable given that it occurred amid all the talk of possible normalization, a few days after President Biden’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
For example, political activist Mohammed Saud, who goes by “The Saudi Blogger” and is known for his support of Israel, was harshly critical of Tamary’s actions. He posted a response on Twitter in which he tagged Channel 13: “My dear friends in Israel, one of your reporters entered the holy Muslim city of Mecca and filmed without any shame. That’s like me entering a synagogue and reading the Torah. Shame on you Channel 13, you should be ashamed of disrespecting Islam like that.” One may question whether the city is indeed defiled by the entrance of any Jew, but even without getting into the nuances of Islamic law, this act was clearly insensitive at the very least.
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Tamary not only showed chutzpah by sneaking into a forbidden area and filming a place that many prefer not be filmed, but also displayed an air of superiority over and cultural insensitivity towards Muslims, and specifically towards the Saudis. The foreign media generally shows cultural sensitivity and only sends Muslim journalists to Mecca to cover whatever needs covering. But for the Israelis – anything goes. If you can already violently occupy another people and continually document it, then what’s the big deal about flaunting Saudi law on camera?
The statement from the Channel 13 spokesperson about Tamary’s report, and similarly worded apology Tamary later issued in English on his Twitter account, concludes with a claim that is insensitive to the point of being completely ludicrous. “The report and the acquaintance with an important place from a primary source only contributes to increasing religious tolerance and dialogue through learning about and gaining familiarity with another people’s faith,” it claimed.
Maybe Channel 13 and Tamary ought to start fostering a tolerant dialogue of mutual recognition right here in Israel, in Jerusalem, at Al-Aqsa. Viewers could really get to know and understand the significance of the holy places for Muslim worshippers. You needn’t go all the way to Mecca for the sake of tolerance and recognition. But maybe that wasn’t the infiltration’s real purpose.