Ben Tzion, 31, visited mosques in Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and shared photographs and videos of his visits on his social media account, the daily reported.
A photograph posted by Tzion ─ who describes travelling as a hobby ─ inside Masjid-i-Nabawi in Madinah was viewed more than 30,000 times, received 3,500 comments and prompted backlash from certain individuals on social media, leading Instagram to suspend his account, according to Times of Israel.
The photograph shows Tzion wearing traditional Arab garb, which he says he bought in Jerusalem, and pointing to his name embroidered in Hebrew on his tefillin — a ritual object of Judaism.
In response to the photograph, Muslims protested the presence of a non-Muslim at the holy site. Non-Muslims are barred from visiting Makkah and advised not to enter parts of central Madinah.
According to Times of Israel, some social media users remarked that while Saudi Arabia had barred Qatari’s from entering the country, it “apparently has no quarrel with Israeli Jews”.
The Arabic hashtag “A Zionist at the Prophet’s Mosque” has attracted more than 90,000 tweets in the 24 hours, BBC reported on Tuesday.
“The scholars are in prisons and the Zionists are at the Prophet’s Mosque. It is a sad thing,” said one Twitter user in Arabic, BBC said.
The reaction to Tzion’s images follows news reports that Israel has secret ties with ‘many’ Arab, Muslim states.
In a rare interview with a Saudi-owned news site earlier this week, an Israeli cabinet minister said that the country was obligated not to name the Arab and Muslim states it has “covert” ties with.
A message of respect
Speaking to the daily, Tzion stressed that “he is coming as a friend and has respect for Islam and the Arab world.” Tzion added that his message is one of respect for other cultures and faiths.
He said that the people he had encountered on his travels to Tehran, Qom, Beirut or Riyadh were friendly towards him, despite his nationality and religion.
“No one in the Arab world ever approached me with hostility,” the daily quoted Tzion as saying.
“People know that I am different, they see that I wear a kippah or a different Arab garment. They come to me and ask me where I’m from. I tell them that I’m from Jerusalem, Israel. And their first reaction usually is: ‘Wow. Welcome.’”
According to the daily, he said he was aware of the angry comments on social media in response to his photograph but added that “among regular people, there is no hatred.”
“When I am going to a holy site, I go there with respect, with dignity and love toward people. Not with hatred or mockery or trying to be, in any way, shape, or form, disrespectful. This would be the last of my intentions. I go there as a friend,” Times of Israel quoted Tzion as saying.
The daily added that, on his visits to Muslim countries, Tzion never hid his identity as a Jew.
“I carried these tefillin in my hands. I didn’t remove it from the box; it was in my hand when I entered the mosque. Wherever I go, I take this bag with me. I don’t have a wallet, so I carry some of my stuff in this bag,” Tzion was further quoted as saying. “I wasn’t hiding anything. People knew I was Jewish.”
“No one would ever harm me inside a mosque. I didn’t have any intention to be disrespectful,” said Tzion, who, according to Times of Israel, left Saudi Arabia a few days ago and has not disclosed his current location.
An Israeli cabinet minister said on Sunday that Israel had covert ties with “many” Arab and Muslim states but was obliged not to name them at the other sides’ request. A rare interview given by the head of Israel’s armed forces to a Saudi-owned news site was published on Thursday, further fuelling talk of close links. It followed previous broad hints by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and accusations by Hezbollah that Saudi Arabia was pushing Israel to attack the Lebanese group. “We have ties, some of them secret, with many Arab and Muslim states,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israeli army radio on Sunday. “Usually the one who wants those ties to be discreet is the other side,” he said in response to a question about ties with Riyadh.
“We respect the wishes of the other side when contacts are developing, whether it is with Saudi Arabia or other Arab or Muslim countries.”
Although Saudi Arabia and Israel have no official diplomatic relations, they share a common enemy in Iran, with both seeking to limit the Islamic Republic’s expanding influence in the Middle East.
Netanyahu has also spoken repeatedly and with pride about growing rapprochement with “moderate Arab states” without naming them, although he is assumed to be referring to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with countries of the moderate camp in the Arab world, in the face of radical Islam,” he told Israel’s parliament last week.
“I think that this growing closeness and consultation is first and foremost good for security and ultimately for peace,” he added.
Tensions between the Saudis and Iran have intensified in recent weeks, with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri saying he is stepping down over what he called Iran’s grip on his country.
Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is dominant in Lebanon, is also a great enemy of Israel with which it fought a war in 2006.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on November 10 that he had “information that Saudi Arabia has asked Israel to strike Lebanon”.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani last week echoed the allegation.