TEL AVIV – A top ranking Saudi cleric will visit Auschwitz on Thursday in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of its liberation, as well as meet with Holocaust survivors at a Polish synagogue.
Secretary-general of the Mecca-based Muslim World League (MWL) and former Saudi justice minister Mohammed al-Issa will visit the Nazi death camp in Poland along with Muslim religious leaders from 25 countries. A delegation of U.S. Jewish leaders on behalf of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) will also be on the trip.
According to AJC CEO David Harris, it would be “the most senior delegation of Muslim religious leaders to visit Auschwitz ever.”
He went on to say that the trip, and in particular Issa’s participation, would bolster Muslims’ understanding of the Holocaust.
“This trip will be groundbreaking. That is no exaggeration,” he told the Times of Israel.
The group will also visit Warsaw, where they will tour the Museum of the History of Polish Jews and the Nozyk Synagogue. They will also visit a mosque. They are also slated to share an interfaith Shabbat meal.
A year ago, Issa authored an oped in the Washington Post in which urged “all Muslims to learn the history of the Holocaust, to visit memorials and museums of this horrific event and to teach its lesson to their children.”
The Muslim World League, of which Issa is head, is a Saudi missionary organization founded in 1962 that is historically known to be hostile towards Jews and Israel. The Times of Israel quoted Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as saying that in the past MWL promoted “a virulent strain of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic writing, thinking and preaching.”
However, the report went on to to say that under Issa, the organization had dramatically shifted its approach, rejecting Islamic hardliners and extending hands to other faiths.
“The fact that the secretary-general of the Muslim World League, which once represented the worst face of Muslim leadership on issues related to the Jews and Jewish history, is going to Auschwitz — normalizing discussion of the Holocaust and marginalizing deniers — is something remarkable,” Satloff said.
According to Joel Rosenberg, an Evangelical Christian and an American-Israeli author who has met with Issa twice in Saudi Arabia, the MWL chief is in “close orbit” of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and that it is probably that Riyadh gave its blessing for the Saudi cleric to make the trip to Auschwitz.
“He definitely would not be making this visit if the crown prince did not want him to do so,” Rosenberg told the Times of Israel.