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Saudi labour ministry denies change in 'employment visas to Jews'

Local Saudi media had previously quoted labour ministry sources supporting Jewish employment
Saudi Minister of Labour Adel Bin Mohammad Faqeeh with other Gulf labour ministers (AFP)

Saudi Arabia has denied reports that it will be employing Jews within the Kingdom.

Following reports by the local daily Al-Watan, which quoted a Saudi labour ministry source saying they did “not mind issuing employment visas to Jews” the Saudi labour ministry released an official statement denying that there was any change to the official policy, according to the Arabi21 news site.

The ministry said the while new forms for foreign employees provide the option to choose Judaism as a faith, it does not mean that the government has made an official decision to authorise the employment of Jews in the kingdom.

Among the other religious beliefs put forward by the ministry as options on the forms are Zoroastrianism, Communism, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and no religion.

On Tuesday, Al-Watan quoted a labour ministry source emphasising that no religious background was a block to employment in Saudi Arabia.

“The ministry does not mind issuing employment visas to Jews as it deals with nationalities, and not with religions,” said the source.

“Saudi Arabia does not oppose dealing with any religion and this is clearly demonstrated in the King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue,” referring to the Austria-based organisation supported by the Saudi monarch for the purposes of promoting dialogue among different faiths and cultures.

“For example, if a worker has the Yemeni nationality and the Jewish faith, he is allowed to work in the kingdom because the ministry does not look at religions, but at nationalities,” the source said.

Al-Watan also quoted a member of Saudi’s Shura council, Sadaqa Bin Yahya Fadhel, supporting the comments.

“We Muslims do not have a problem with Jews or Christians,” he said. “Our major issue is with the Zionist Movement which exploits the Jewish faith to promote and serve its own agenda.”

“We can deal with anyone from any religion, and the ministry is right as long as it does not deal with Israelis. As a kingdom, we do welcome all religions, but we cannot accept Israelis because they are linked to Zionism, a colonialist movement that uses and takes advantage of the Jewish faith. Judaism has nothing to do with this movement.”

While the country has never established formal relations with the State of Israel or allowed Israelis to travel to the Kingdom, its attitude towards non-Israeli Jews has been more ambiguous.

In the 1970’s, visitors to the Kingdom had reported having to sign affidavits swearing they were not Jewish.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organisation monitoring global anti-Semitism, has previously observed that Saudi Arabia “bars anyone from bringing into Saudi Arabia religious ritual objects, including religious texts, from any faith other than Islam, effectively banning religiously observant Jews from entering the country.”

Saudi Arabia officially prohibits the construction of non-Islamic centres of worship and prohibits the public practice of any other religion than Islam, though private worship is officially permitted.