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Philip Rosen: “The Next Big Step with the Saudis is not if but when”

Philip Rosen Minister for Development for Saudi
Philip Rosen Minister for Development for Saudi

Yehudit Haspel Ben-Dak

What would you say if somebody told you that he has seen few Saudi guys lying on the beach of Tel-Aviv, or prominent Israeli film directors will show their films at the upcoming Saudi Film Festival?

Well, Philip Rosen doesn’t think it is fantasy at all. He has just returned with a delegation of about 20 American Jewish leaders and business people from across the United States that visited recently in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Although, he can’t disclose yet the name of the high officials he has met but can say proudly that he has held a series of meetings with senior officials in the kingdom, including at least six government ministers and senior representatives of the Saudi royal house.

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“You may not believe but the young Saudis I have met expressed their dream of visiting the beaches in Tel-Aviv. Yes, and according to Rosen, in a meeting with one of the ministers in Saudi Arabia who is in charge of leisure culture, the minister said he is organizing a film festival in Saudi Arabia next year. “He told us he would be happy to see Israeli films as part of his festival”, Rosen says proudly.

Mr. Rosen is quite a busy multi-tasking man.  Besides his Jewish commitments, he heads the Property Group and is one of the coordinators of the Corporate Department of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, one of the largest and most successful law firms in the world. He is Founding and Current Vice Chairman of the Board of Yeshiva College, Chairman of the Board of American Friends of Likud and an active member of numerous other organizations including the Republican party and a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition. But it seems, that for most, he is proud of being the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of Birthright Israel Foundation.

Waiting for the right timing

“The Saudis are preparing their people for normalization with Israel,”  says Rosen and adds up that part of Israel’s attraction in the eyes of the Saudis, who see Israel as one that can provide them with protection from the common enemy – Iran. I would not be surprised if within a few months or years we see normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel.”

Saudi Arabia, at least in its official statements, has repeatedly stated that it will not normalize its relations with Israel without making progress with the Palestinians. However, Rosen was under the impression that the Saudis were ready to move forward without solving the Palestinian question or without the Biden administration. “We hope and believe that our visit to Saudi Arabia will give a boost to Biden to continue to help advance the Abrahamic Accords. “

The relationships’ status with Israel wasn’t a matter of if but when. Evey high official level whom we met stressed it out. They were honest and didn’t try to manipulate with nice words.

The romance with the Saudis started quite a long time ago…

“As a matter of fact, I was there in 1993 following Oslo Accords. Shimon Peres sent me for a week to few Arab countries including Saudi Arabia where I spent about 2 days. It is really a big difference between that visit to the current one. Back then, it was a matter of if – if there will be special rights to the Palestinians and normalizing the relations with the Arab countries but now, in all our meetings, only one official mentioned the Palestinian issue. He actually mentioned it, not as a conditional matter but as something that would be a nice gesture if it was resolved.”

Did all of them speak with you through MBS guidelines (crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman)?

“Yes, every official got permission”.

How did this visit’s initiative take place?

“We were invited to Saudi Arabia through a few people in our community that have business dealings with the Saudis. The delegation included two lawyers who represent few companies, one in the oil business, and others in banking, real estate, technology, and one lobbyist for the Saudi government in the US. First, we went to Israel, and then Abu Dabi, Dubai, and met the Crown Prince and we talked with him and other high officials about strengthening the Abraham Accords as well as getting guidelines for our Saudi Arabia visit.

Who was accompanying you?

“Sorry, I can’t disclose this information. We didn’t bring with us any Israeli security guys, it wasn’t necessary. We got the security protection by the government”

Your personal impression of modern Saudi Arabia?

“It was amazing. It isn’t what we saw because it wasn’t sightseeing at all as was in previous visits by Jewish leaders in the past (Conference of Presidents). We just visited the biggest mosque in Riyad. It was a pure Abraham Accords business trip and we did focus on this agenda.

What we saw this time is a complete change in the Saudis life, not just women driving in cars or watching movies in theaters or are able to watch sports events but take an actual part in the political life. Driving is just the tip of the iceberg. One of our hosts was a deputy minister, an impressive woman. By the way, the Ambassador to the US is a very remarkable woman. We met her upon our return from the trip.”

How come the architect of Abraham Accord, Jerald Kushner didn’t join the delegation?

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“It wasn’t a political visit. He did really a wonderful job with this historic accord. It is a game-changer.”

Following Bahrain’s agreement with Israel, don’t you think it’s the sign for the next big step?

“Yes, sure. The Saudis themselves pointed out the fact that the Emirates and Bahrain were negotiating and signing agreements with Israel was defiant with the Saudis’ approval.”

Did the Saudis talk to you about the future city Neom?

“Yes, of course, they discussed it with us about it. They would love the Israelis to be involved in this immense project. Yes, they definitely look into the highest level of technology in almost any field.”

Were they honest talking with you about the Iranian threat?

“Yes, they did talk about the Iranian threat. One of the Ministers showed us a world map. He pressed a button to demonstrate through red lights where all the Iranian threats are all over the Globes and that we should stop them.”

Do you think Biden’s administration will change its policy towards the Saudis compared with Trump?

“I hope not. I don’t have an inner insight. It will be a giant mistake. I think the Saudis are working very hard to go to the right direction and Biden’s administration will be crazy not to keep up the previous achievements”.

As a Republican, do you have any say with the Democrats regarding this issue?

“I am a Republican but I had some discussions with Biden Administration concerning the Abraham Accords. It doesn’t matter to me if they come from Democrats as long as they do the right thing and serve Israel’s interests. That what counts”.

Why do most Jews still support the Democrats?

“Following World War 2, they felt that Democrats’ ideology serves them better. They are wrong. In the last 20 years, the Republican administration is much better for Israel.”

Will Trump run again for Presidency?

“I don’t know…I am involved in the Republican party but not in the President’s decision to run again. He still has a lot of charisma and a lot of people who love him”.

A wakeup call

It seems that among his many Zionist activities, Rosen is proud the most of his active involvement with Birth Right – Taglit project. “We bring yearly about 50,000 youngsters from all over the US to experience first-hand the Zionist miracle and the crucial problems Israel is facing. I wish there were more people that love Israel as me”, he emphasizes.

“I am constantly talking with people about Israel, so they would see Israel as I wish to show them, how Israel should be the love of their life and not get the impression only from the media.

It seems that wherever Rosen is around, somehow the Birthright project is accompanying him wherever he goes.  “I sat on the beach in Miami and saw a bunch of youth from all walks of life singing and talking. All of a sudden, they were singing a song related to Tel-Aviv. My wife turns to me and said: ‘They are yours’…So, I walked over and found out that they are from the Birthright movement and arrived from all over the States, religious and non-religious and most importantly they stayed friends where ‘Israel experience’ is the common ground for their relationship”.

Do you see an alarming sign from the progressive camp in the Democratic party?

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“Yes. It is alarming but I hope the Jewish people in the democratic party will see what’s going on in their party and where it is leading through the progressive camp, how hostile they are to the Jewish and Israeli interests. It should be a wake-up call”.

But what about the young generation, especially on the campuses?

“It is a good point. I spoke on colleges a few months ago. They have criticism towards Israeli policy. I asked them if they have been to Israel ever? I told them about the Birthright movement and invited them to join the project-the visit to Israel and give Israel a fair chance to project its situation. I promise them that they would think differently upon their return to the US. Their visit didn’t materialize so far but that’s the way to go about it with the youngsters.”

Anti-Semitism – The actors should be more vocal

Rosen is very worried about the attacks against Jews in the US. “It is very troubling. Israel does have enemies all over but we do have enemies inside of our own people…actually the worst enemies like the one who are involved with the BDS.”

This matter is very close to him.  He thinks that anti-Semitism is more exposed due to social media. He thinks that the most crucial step for Jews right now is to be pro-active, to push their local and Federal representatives to legislate laws against anti-Semitism, to outlaw these racist acts, and establish reinforcing and preventive mechanism.

We see some progress in legislation. I wish to complement Ambassador Gilad Arden who is very active at the UN in this regard and hopefully, the new Ambassador to Washington will be active as well.”

Noa Tishbi, the actress/producer is a great Ambassador for Israel, isn’t she?

Yes, she is doing a great job. I expect other leading successful actors and celebrities like Gal Gadot to be more vocal and active, not just through Instagram…You can’t ignore the problematic and alarming anti-Semitism acts. It becomes even more violent. We, the Jews should be very pro-active, not ignoring it!”

Are you personally involved in combatting these troubling hate crimes?

Yes, I am. Besides my visits at the campuses and meeting with legislators, when I heard about one of the latest attacks on Hassidic Jews who were beaten terribly, I drove immediately to Manhattan to meet with the tormented Jews and support them. I try to find out how to tackle the issue. I will do anything I can to fight this dangerous atmosphere. We have to wake up and fight back”.

Is it a lost battle on campuses?

“No. There are Jewish groups on campuses like Maccabi program and others who fight the Anti-Israel anti-Jews sentiments and doing a great job. We should never give up”.

A Game Changer

The Saudis will adapt the Abraham Accords, it will be a completely different game, the Saudis told us themselves. It could take us back hundred years when Jews and Moslems lived together peacefully.

We can see the beginning of the game-changer in front of us like in Morocco. I was there in a sad and difficult time when all synagogues closed and see how it is unfolding these days, especially with the security agreements.

One of our Saudi companions said that definitely, the Saudi Arabia policy towards Israel will be a defining moment forward. He compared it with a fishing process. “If you catch a little or medium fish, it is nice for your dinner but if you catch a giant fish, it is a meaningful catch!   That’s the big difference for the Jewish people and Israel”.

A House in Jerusalem

Philip Rosen and his wife, Malki have four children and live in NY. He is traveling a lot for business but always finds the time to appear in many newspapers, magazines, and websites in Israel, the U.S., and around the world. He is well known as a prolific speaker on Jewish and Zionist topics regularly across the Jewish community.

During the whole interview, Rosen expresses constantly his love for Israel and his worries for its existence and security. “It is all of our dreams. We wish Israel to live in peace, to exist, and thrive for the next tenth and more generations to come.  As for myself, I bought a house in Jerusalem and expending it because I wish my grand and grandchildren to live peacefully in Israel”.

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Rosen thinks the Saudis will definitely adapt the Abraham Accords. “It will be a complete game-changer, the Saudis told us themselves. It could take us back hundred years when Jews and Moslems lived together peacefully.

We can see the beginning of the game-changer in front of us like in Morocco. I was there in a sad and difficult time when all synagogues closed and see how it is unfolding these days, especially with the security agreements.”

You visit Israel very often. Are you involved in the tech scene as an investor?

“Besides my passion for Israel, I am a partner in several Israeli funds including tech funds such as “OurCrowd.”

It is the “Corona Times” after all…was your Law firm affected by the Corona Pandemic?

“My Law firm specializes in restructuring and I specialize in real estate restructuring. Both were very busy during the pandemic.”

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