Tuesday, April 05, 2016

US Cultural Attaché David Edginton at the opening ceremony of Riyadh Book Fair
Matt Lee of AP asked State Department spokesperson Mark Toner about the antisemitic booth at the Riyadh International Book Fair that I reported on Monday.

The State Department was ready with some talking points and materials, meaning that either Matt had told them ahead of time that the question was coming...or they read EoZ.

Here is the video of the exchange. I added some photos illustrating the offensive booth and the US participation at the fair.

Toner downplayed US statements supporting the fair and he made it look like the US merely had a booth, without saying that officials participated in the ceremonies as honored guests.

The real question is whether the US will attend next year's even without assurances that the Saudis would ban all hate materials. Only last December the US was part of the Jeddah Book Fair in Saudi Arabia which also included hate materials. And we've seen similar displays in books fairs in Cairo, the UAE and Casablanca.

Here's the video, followed by the transcript.

Here is the transcript:

QUESTION: My question, which is semi-related to this, has to do – well, doesn’t have to do with the UN. It doesn’t – but it does have to do with the U.S. diplomatic mission in Saudi.
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: And this book fair.
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: I meant to ask about this yesterday, but we were running short of time.
QUESTION: So were you guys aware of the content of what was in all of the stalls at this book fair? And if so, why was that okay?
MR TONER: So, first of all, this is a – actually, first of all, we condemn anti-Semitism in all of its forms, as well as any other hate speech. Second is representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh have participated in the International Riyadh Book Fair for multiple years as part of an effort to essentially distribute books to Saudi citizens that include books about democracy, tolerance, diversity, human rights, et cetera. The book fair itself is run by the Saudi Government’s Ministry of Culture and Information. So what I want to clearly state is we were just a participant. We weren’t aware that these books were going to be featured in this book fair. So we’re not a partner, we’re not a funder, we’re not a sponsor. We’re just simply a participant and we obviously, as I said, condemn any kind of anti-Semitic literature.
QUESTION: Well, do you know if there was any complaint made to the organizers – to the Saudis about this?
MR TONER: That I don’t know. You mean on our part? I don't know that. I’ll check. I mean, I just did, but --
QUESTION: Yeah. Or if you even regard this as something that is – well, yeah, but you --
MR TONER: Sure. No, I understand. I’m not trying to be facetious.
QUESTION: You said you condemn it in general, but I mean --
MR TONER: Yeah. No, no, no.
QUESTION: -- this has been – and I remember that --
MR TONER: Well, I get --
QUESTION: -- this has been a problem in the past --
MR TONER: But --
QUESTION: -- or an issue in the past.
MR TONER: But – sorry, I don’t mean to cut you off.
QUESTION: And as you say that you participated in this event for multiple years. I can remember this happening before. I mean, does – do you think that this is something that the U.S. Government, through the State Department, should make an issue of, make – take it to the Saudis?
MR TONER: Well, I do. And I can say that – I can – just to further clarify, we condemn any anti-Semitic literature that may have been present at this event, as I said, just as we would broadly condemn any anti-Semitic literature or anti-Semitism in all its forms around the world. Again, I’m not aware of the history here. My understanding is that we were not aware that these books were going to be featured at the fair. And I can also check on whether we raised this directly, our concerns, with the Saudi Government.
QUESTION: Will you return to the fair next year?
MR TONER: I think we would weigh this very heavily, considering this incident.
QUESTION: Well, okay, but I mean, I –
MR TONER: I mean, look, this is – yeah.
QUESTION: I get that answer, but I can remember asking this question in previous years, because it seems to be something that happens like every single --
MR TONER: Was it last year?
MR TONER: I’m not – sorry.
QUESTION: I mean, it’s not something that has just popped up out of the blue. It seems to be --
MR TONER: No, I understand. I understand that. I would --
QUESTION: -- a recurrent theme here.
MR TONER: Yeah. No, I understand that. Again, our intention – the embassy’s intention for participating in this was to use it as a venue to --
QUESTION: I -- do you believe, other than these books or this literature that you condemn that, in fact, the fair does bring books about democracy and pluralism and --
MR TONER: Well, sure, because we bring them.
QUESTION: Oh, you bring them.
MR TONER: I can’t speak to the broader --
QUESTION: What are the sales of that, I wonder.
MR TONER: No, I really can’t speak to the broader content. I’d have to check on that as well.
QUESTION: Do people buy them?
MR TONER: I’d have to check on that as well. I mean, I think, yes. I mean, I – look, we wouldn’t do it if we weren’t – if it wasn’t a productive engagement with Saudi society.
QUESTION: So that’s --
MR TONER: There was no return, frankly --
MR TONER: -- to our investment of time, whatever. We probably wouldn’t do it, so – yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. I don’t want to dwell on this, but when you say, “You bring those kinds of books,” does that mean that the embassy has its own stall that it’s also --
MR TONER: Well, we do have – that’s – again, we have participated in the Riyadh book fair --
QUESTION: Yeah, right.
MR TONER: -- and I believe that includes --
MR TONER: So we do have --
QUESTION: So you bring the books on, say --
MR TONER: We have a booth at the fair, sell a wide assortment of American books, biography, children books, other materials, study in the U.S., and we do pay a fee for just that space.
QUESTION: Right. Guides to women’s rights; that kind of thing?
MR TONER: I can imagine all those things. Matt, I – that’s all I got.
QUESTION: Now, in terms of (inaudible) --
QUESTION: It would be interesting to – it would actually be interesting to see what kind of a sample of what it is that the U.S. --
MR TONER: We can try to get that for you.
QUESTION: -- Embassy promotes --
MR TONER: We can try to get that for you.
QUESTION: -- what kind of books they promote and so on.
MR TONER: We can try to get that for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.

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