Iraqi, Saudi journalists make first official visit to Israel

A group of Arab journalists, including Saudis and Iraqis, arrived in Jerusalem and were received by the foreign ministry on Sunday, the Israeli government announced.

It marks the first time journalists from the two predominately-Arab countries have visited Israel following an invitation from the Israeli government.

“A delegation that is composed of six journalists from different Arab countries arrived in Israel and is being hosted by the Israeli foreign ministry,” the Israeli government tweeted on Sunday. “For the first time, journalists from Iraq and Saudi Arabia in the delegation are visiting Israel.

“The delegation will visit the Holocaust Museum, the Knesset [parliament], and several other holy sites in Jerusalem. The delegation is going to meet with Knesset members and some diplomats

The spokesperson of the Arab Media Division in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) also welcomed the delegation.

“We are looking forward to meet this respectful delegation in Israel to show them the struggles that the Israeli security forces are facing, also the real picture of the Israeli defense forces. Warm welcome to the delegation,” Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee tweeted on Sunday.

Both the Foreign Ministry of Iraq and members of parliament’s foreign affairs committee were not able to comment on the issue to Rudaw English on Monday.

Earlier this month, Iraq’s Ambassador to United States Fareed Yasseen seemed to argue that Baghdad should have some kind of relations with Israel, noting the Iraqi diaspora there.

Some in the Iraqi government attacked the diplomat and called for his resignation. However, the Iraqi foreign ministry defended their diplomat and accused some media of twisting his message.

Upon receiving news of the Iraqi journalist’s visit to Israel from some local media agencies, the Iraqi Syndicate of Journalists strongly condemned the visit.

“We strongly condemn any Iraqi journalist who visits Israel, due to political reasons, the hatred Israel has toward Arab states in the Middle East, and all the killings and massacres Israel is committing against the people of Palestine,” it responded.

“The syndicate will take legal action against any Iraqi journalist who would visit Israel now or in the future.”

Among several other Arab-majority nations, Iraq has long opposed the Jewish state. It sided with the Palestinians — like most other Arab states — in the wars of 1967 and 1973. Increasing relations with Iran – an ardent opponent of Israel – has allowed the animosity to continue.

Jews have long and enduring roots in what is now present-day Iraq and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region. The Iraqi federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are forbidden from having diplomatic relations with Israel; however, cultural ties remain and the KRG has an office for a representative of the Jewish community in its Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs.

Between 1948 and 1951, more than 121,000 Jews left Iraq for the Holy Land in the so-called Operation Ezra and Nehemiah as Israel airlifted tens of thousands of Jews following the Iraqi government’s intensified persecution following the establishment of the State of Israel.