Stop the presses! Jews, Arabs eat in the same general vicinity in NYC!

That's the best news from the Saudis' interfaith public-relations fest at the U.N.

It was billed as a unique interfaith conference of religious leaders organized and hosted at the U.N. HQ in NYC by King Abdullah.

And it really wasn't — thanks to the very same King Abdullah.

You have to say, though, that the guy is touchy-feely. He's the Saudi monarch known for holding hands with a variety of world leaders while OK'ing the chopping off of sinners' hands in his own country.

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Just to show you how bitter the Middle East is, it was big news at the U.N. conference that Jewish and Arab pols really did kinda share a meal, as the press reported today. But don't get your hopes up.

Well, raise them a little. The BBC reports:

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Arab leaders including King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia have attended the same dinner at the UN offices in New York.

The joint attendance is a first for the two leaders, whose countries lack diplomatic ties, but reports said there was no contact between the men.

They are attending a two-day UN meeting promoting dialogue on religion and culture, proposed by Saudi Arabia.

But wait a sec before you celebrate this gathering of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian clerics.

The sharp New York Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar wrote a good preview yesterday about the vaunted conference:

Saudi Arabia, which deploys a special police force to ensure that a narrow sect of Islam predominates in the kingdom, is sponsoring a discussion at the United Nations on religious tolerance starting Wednesday. . . .

But human rights groups are crying foul that Saudi Arabia is being given a platform to promote religious tolerance abroad while actively combating it at home.

"It’s like apartheid South Africa having a conference at the U.N. on racial harmony," said Ali al-Ahmed, a Shiite Muslim dissident from Saudi Arabia based in Washington.

And even a far more radical Muslim source agrees with that Shiite dissident. The London-based Palestinian-expat paper Al-Quds al-Arabi notes, according to the Middle East Times:

While some have praised the Saudi-sponsored interfaith conference to be held this week at the United Nations among world leaders, others have criticized this meeting as a public relations stunt by Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom's prominent scholars, including the grand mufti (the state's top religious authority), are not attending the conference; sources in New York told Al-Quds al-Arabi that the Saudi delegation includes only dozens of princes without any Muslim clerics.

King Abdullah is certainly not the first imperial schnook getting the royal treatment in the city — Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov chatted in Mayor Mike Bloomberg's office and laid a wreath at Ground Zero, and Dick Cheney was feted at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

And it's not as if the U.N. conference is the first ballyhooed bullshit meeting in the city. But right now it's the most interesting one — because of who's not there and who didn't actually eat at the same table and didn't talk with one another.

At Ninth and Broadway, on the other hand, Jews and Arabs really have been spotted ordering food from the same Halal vendor. And standing in the same line. And even talking with one another.


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