Saying as He Pleases, Wishing to Do More

The Jewish Community and Israeli representatives are at a loss: The Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom, Dr Ghazi Algosaibi, has made several incendiary remarks against Israel and the Jewish community, and has openly supported suicide attacks.

LONDON - The Jewish Community and Israeli representatives are at a loss: The Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom, Dr Ghazi Algosaibi, has made several incendiary remarks against Israel and the Jewish community, and has openly supported suicide attacks; however, with the exception of a limp-wristed protest from the British Foreign Office, "the British establishment is simply doing nothing," Israeli diplomats and senior Jewish community leaders protest.

"Algosaibi does as he pleases and shows absolute contempt for the laws prohibiting incitement to terrorism," they say.

Indeed it would appear that of late, Algosaibi, 62, has flouted all the existing rules of diplomacy. Three months ago, he glorified Palestinian suicide bomber Ayat Akhras in a poem published on the front page of the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat; a month ago, in an interview with the Saudi-owned, Beirut-based daily, Asharq al-Awsat, he praised the operations of suicide bombers and boasted that were it not for his age and weight, he too would want to die a martyr's death.

In the same Asharq al-Awsat interview, Algosaibi clashed with the Jewish community after claiming that "20 Jews with baseball bats, bottles and Israeli flags" had attacked his 24-year-old son after the latter took part in a pro-Palestinian demonstration that was held alongside the pro-Israeli rally that took place in Trafalgar Square in May. About a month after the alleged incident, Algosaibi's son, Fares, filed an incognito complaint with police; however, no evidence was found against any members of the Jewish community.

Algosaibi made another inflammatory comment at a lecture on Saudi mythology at Westminster University in London last week. He was questioned at the event on his attitude toward suicide bombings and reportedly stated that the Israeli occupation was "far worse than what the Germans did in World War II." He also expressed understanding for "desperate Palestinians" who commit suicide.

Outraged responses to Algosaibi's were not long in coming. Activists from the Jewish community launched a petition demanding the dismissal of the Saudi ambassador; a spokesman for the Israeli embassy said that Algosaibi's comments were "irresponsible and outrageous;" and the Board of Deputies of British Jews said that it would be sending a protest to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, saying that the sentiments expressed by the Saudi ambassador were not becoming of a diplomat serving in the United Kingdom and that the Foreign Office should send a strong message to the Saudi government stating that the ambassador's comments encourage and incite violence, create inter-faith tensions and justify suicide bombings.

A Foreign Office spokesman said that Algosaibi's remarks comparing Israel's operations in the West Bank to those of Nazi Germany were "wrong and insensitive."

Algosaibi's confidantes reject the criticism against him and claim that presenting the ambassador in a negative light not only misses the mark, but also shows a misunderstanding of the man and his motives. "He's a sort of wild card, unpredictable figure, a rare bird on the Saudi scene," one of them said. "He is an educated and tolerant man who studied at the University of Southern California and in London and is well versed in the art of international diplomacy and Western norms. Simultaneously, he is aware of the limitations and dangers posed by his role as representative of a devout Muslim entity that operates according to tribal codes."

Algosaibi's confidantes say that he often has to engage in disputes with the enemies of the kingdom in order to present himself as a militant fighting for Arab and Palestinian interests and causes. However, they claim, behind the scenes, he is an enlightened and liberal character who unreservedly supports peace, inter-faith dialogue and equal rights for women.

Algosaibi is well versed in Jewish and Zionist history and often quotes David Ben-Gurion in his lectures on the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict. He also opposes violence of any kind and sees Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida as "terrorists with a distorted perception of the Koran" - a view he has declared publicly despite the dangers inherent in speaking out so openly.

Algosaibi has fulfilled a number of senior roles in the Saudi government, including minister of industry, electricity and health. In 1984, he was appointed ambassador to Bahrain; and in 1992, he was sent on an urgent posting as ambassador to London in order to salvage relations with Britain that had deteriorated because of his predecessor Nasser Almanquor's support for the fatwa - religious decree - calling for the death of British writer Salman Rushdie. Besides his diplomatic activities, Algosaibi is a poet and author who has published a book and dozens of articles and poems.

Algosaibi is believed to have considerable influence over Saudi heir Crown Prince Abdullah. Sources say that Algosaibi is one of the driving forces behind Abdullah's opening up to the Western press in the last year that reached its pinnacle with the crown prince's interview to New York Times correspondent Tom Friedman in which he exposed initial details of the Saudi peace plan.

Middle East experts and sources close to the Saudi embassy say that "the British know very well when Algosaibi's statements are just hot air, empty, boastful rhetoric for image purposes, or when he genuinely crosses the line ... If the worst comes to the worst, they will discreetly ask the Saudi Royal Family for his early retirement, but will never push for his removal or dismissal."

Selected comments by the Saudi ambassador to the UK

April 12, 2002:

From "Martyrs," the poem that appeared on the front page of al-Hayat - "Tell Ayat [Reference to Ayat Akhras, an 18-year-old Palestinian female suicide bomber who attacked a Jerusalem supermarket on March 29, killing two and injuring 25], the bride of loftiness ... She embraced death with a smile, while the leaders are running away from death ... Doors of heaven are opened for her ... We complained to the idols of a White House whose heart is filled with darkness."

April 22, 2002:

"Menachem Begin was responsible for the cold-blooded murder of about 200 innocent Palestinians, mostly women and children in Dir Yassin. Yitzhak Shamir was a notorious murderer of innocents ... Ariel Sharon is guilty of genocide ... If and when the Board of Deputies of British Jews has the moral courage to refer to these notorious terrorists as terrorists, and the actions in Jenin of the Israeli government as war crimes, I would be very glad to modify my view of Palestinian freedom fighters." (A reply to a letter sent by the British Board of Deputies in response to Algosaibi's poem, "Martyrs")

June 14, 2002:

"I think that it is the right of every man to defend his homeland by any means. A man who ... dies doing so is a martyr, and in no case must we consider him suicidal ... I do not fear death. On the contrary, I long to die as a martyr, although I am at an age that does not allow me to carry out a martyrdom operation. My weight does not permit this." (Interview with Asharq al-Awsat)

June 25, 2002:

"I am grateful for Mark Steyn's generosity in trying to explain away the humiliating defeat of the Saudi football team at the hands of the Germans by offering an interesting theory: `The entire [Saudi] team are Mossad Jew infiltrators.' This is very comforting but, alas, untrue. The defeat was well earned." (Letter to the Daily Telegraph, June 25, 2002)

July 9, 2002:

"The Israeli army is the fifth largest army in the world, using massive force against [Palestinian] civilian population, so what do you expect? The civilian population uses any means at its disposal, sometimes unorthodox means ... Given the large number of people that have been killed, wounded and displaced on the Palestinian side, in such a short period of time, this [war] is far worse than what the Germans did during World War II." (Press conference following a speech at Westminster University)