UAE, Israel, AJC discussed on People of the Pod


Was declared the year of tolerance and they have extended that tolerance promotion which translates into tolerance inaptly frankly from the Arabic, it's really more description than tolerance itself. It really conveys more mutual respect and welcoming but that has been the spirit that has been directed really from the top down but absorbed by the society in so many ways that there is an ex patriot Jewish community in the UAE becoming. Jewish communities from really all not not Jewish. But is GONNA be religious communities, religious factions from every possible branch it every faith practicing in that country. But. We try to do a twenty years ago when we first went to the UAE and what we have continued to do over those years in smaller and larger group visits and sometimes single visits by myself has been to explain the Jewish people to civil society leaders. Government officials learned from them, their concerns about the region hear from them, their aspirations for. A more stable secure regional architecture explore the possibility of developing a relationship with the sole middle. East democracy. That actually also is a country that has different faiths respects, diversity celebrates diversity, and that is Israel. And that also has strategic concerns that are common to the. UAE. At other countries other Sunni Arab countries in the Gulf a by the way I should point out that HEC has been elsewhere in the Gulf going back even further back to. Nineteen ninety four was our first visit to the Gulf. It was developing these relationships developing friendships, opening doors, disabuse people of various misconceptions they might have they might have been taught about the Jewish people introducing a narrative about Israel that was contrary to the narrative that was widely available in the media and in school curricula but that was consistent with the way we saw the region and the way many in the world see the region and the possibilities of a very different political and cultural context. Than was kind of enforced over. So many decades I've seen estimates that there are as many as a thousand Jews today in the I'm not sure if that's a little high little low suffice to say, there were not a thousand Jews in the twenty years ago. So you are very much a trailblazer at the time it wasn't your first kind of foray into the Arab world, but were you nervous to be a Jewish person heading to to the Emirates in in two thousand? No not the least Yes, you're right There was a very tiny Jewish community when we were there twenty years ago maybe it was just the two of us who were visiting the time. Although that's not really accurate because of course, there have been Jewish engineers and lawyers and doctors and other experts professionals who have come into work in the energy companies there and consulting companies, various kinds and other businesses well, of course but there was not what you would describe as a Jewish community there. Individual Jews that changed for many years when hse would visit, we would host a Chabad dinner and service in a banquet a small. Banquet. Room. In a in a hotel that we would occupy and we would invite those Jews we knew were there to come and be with us on a Friday evening and we would continue this ritual year after year and the group would meet other people other Jews in the UAE and Dubai mostly. But a little bit in Abu Dhabi as well and and other Emirates, and they would gather together convened by AJC a until about. Five six years ago maybe it goes back seven years when the community had grown enough the network had expanded enough that people were meeting in a villa and were conducting services, Atalante Friday evening, but on Saturday as well, and gradually that sort of villa operation grew and became very substantial, Jewish, enterprise in in the UAE and then really just in the last two years I think it. Really wasn't the fall of two, thousand, eighteen. So almost two years when there was the first public declaration in the local media that there was a Jewish community until that time people had been very quiet as they would gather at the villa on a Saturday, they would be careful about how they arrive. They wouldn't come in a bus they would come individually in cars there was no. Sign outside the villa that said that it was a Jewish center of any kind. But that change two years ago, and now there is a robust community it's not large. I. Don't think it's a thousand people but it certainly in the hundreds and they have organized the Jewish Council of the Emirates there is a chief rabbi of the Jewish community of the emerets Rabbi Yehuda SORTA. who was the nyu Hill L. Rabbi in New, York, but because nyu as a campus in Abu Dhabi his frequently and Abu Dhabi as well and he has been adopted by the community as their chief rabbi and we have regular Friday zoom Coupla about services that I and others in AJC have been invited to participate and sometimes speak in the services David Harris spoken I've spoken. David Rosen our colleague in Jerusalem. Or International, director of into religious affairs. So Agency is very fully embedded in this community and supportive of admiring of this community we will continue to work with as we make our plans to establish an ongoing permanent presence in the U. E. which we just announced obiekwu. I've heard from countless middle, east experts over the years has been that the Israeli Palestinian conflict represents a kind of glass ceiling on the potential for Israel's relationship with the Gulf states. Now, in the span of less than a month, we've seen Israel in the UAE announce and proceed along the path toward full peace and normalization between the two countries and proudly Zionist Jewish organization AJC opening an office in the Emirates. What should we make of that Maxim today that there's this kind of limit to how far Israel's relationship with the Arab nations can go? The reality is that Israel has had quite relations with many Arab states even with this formal declaration by the Arab League and enforced from time to time in various Sarab summits that there would be no normalization of relations with Israel despite that official stance, there have been unofficial contacts and quite extensive unofficial contacts at the intelligence level security level. But also with businesses there have been many Israeli business relationships that have developed with folks in the Gulf in North Africa over decades and their products and services that the go back and forth, which is exciting a now, it can be really built on in a much more. Open and sustained and I think mutually satisfying way what we've started seeing just in the last couple of years especially I think maybe I would trace some of this to the October two thousand, eighteen visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu to Amman was graded by the then Sultanate of Oman not having a diplomatic relationship with Israel but having invited the prime minister of Israel to come and meet with the Sultan. From that point and there were other events that occurred in that same several months of two. Israeli. Ministers going to the two one two Attila Communications Conference want to sport international sporting event. Of course, in the summer of two, thousand and nineteen. You had the Buffoni hosting of the peace to prosperity onference over the course of months multiple declarations by influential Arab leaders to the effect that They understood the decades with pretending that Israel doesn't exist hasn't helped the Palestinians that if we are trying to advance Palestinian statehood a two state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict what we've been doing for decades hasn't really done that there haven't been serious negotiations since the Oslo accords nothing has moved forward since nineteen ninety-three how can we continue to insist on doing something that is obviously not working? Let's try different path and frankly AJC for centuries has been encouraging different path. We've been saying to foreign ministers and heads of state and various other officials and business people if you want to help. The Palestinians. You'll do a better job if you are talking to the Israelis if you're encouraging them to move forward if you are looking over the shoulders of negotiators and tried to push things in a direction that makes for you and make sense for your Palestinian cousins. So some of this is, of course, common threats, the common threat from extremism common threat posed by an aggressive Iran these are concerns that Israelis and Gulf Arabs have naturally but it's more than that. It's the opportunities that could exist that could be exploited by a real relationship with Israel and over the table relationship with Israel. Now comes the news that. Is is opening an office in the UAE. It'll be our thirteen overseas post. What kind of work will that office do is going to be focused solely on the E. or also work with other countries in the Gulf to try to deepen our relationships there. We started working on plans to open an office in the UAE well, before this announcement when one of the objectives at the end of the line was the establishment of diplomatic relations now that that has accelerated and is moving forward so quickly, and in fact I think the finishing touches are being put on an agreement between Israel and the way we will develop other aspects of agenda that we'd been laying out over the last year that has to do with the with interfaith relations AJC already for several years, but involved in in efforts in the UAE to deepen Muslim, Christian Jewish relations and in fact, as you know. The has announced plans in the next couple of years to build what they're calling an air brake family house, which will be a synagogue, a church, and a mosque on a complex in Abu Dhabi, that will also have educational programming exhibit space. We hope to be able to do more to to contribute to to to that planning as well into participate in some of the programs that will take place. So interfaith is one aspect of it. We will be there we will be able to engage in these discussions with higher committee in the that is dealing with these issues we. Would like to be able to use a base of the US to reach out to others in the Arab world. This will be AJC's first office in the Arab world we have maintained relations with North African and Gulf in live on countries for many years by flying in as often as possible and meeting with officials when they come to the United States and be with their embassies and their diplomats supposed around the US. But this'll be much more satisfying, much more direct to have the ability in a few hours to be another Arab capital, the possibility exists that AJC could serve as A. An introducer, a connector, a networker for business people, and also civil society organizations in Israel and in the United States and in the Arab World I think we'll be quite busy. We don't expect to have a staff of fifty people in the UAE we'll start small as we have in other places and we will have friends and we will deepen those friendships and we'll also be able to set up some exchange programs. I. Hope between the US and Emirati officials and student leaders and others and introducing more and more of our people. Our concerns are aspirations to this dynamic culture in the Gulf. I'm just before we close I want to throw a critique at you that I've heard a friend of mine who's a journalist with the Jewish publication through a critique me over the weekend and I've seen this echoed a few other times on twitter as well. In addition to the words enhancing the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel. AJC's mission statement also includes the words advancing democratic values around the world. It's very obvious to everyone how an AJC office in the Emirates relates to the former the part about the well of Jews and Israel but how will our first office based in a non democratic country wreck in with the part of our mission statement talks about democratic values? That's an interesting question Steffi on a complicated one. Over. The many years at AJC has been operating internationally have been exercising our diplomacy in many different countries at many different settings. multi-laterally, and bilaterally, we have encountered governments that have political systems that we don't find necessarily a surly compatible with American constitutional principles. We have nevertheless found ways to advance our interests and Arkansas and our communities a term. Aspirations by dealing with specific issues that are at the top of our agenda listening to the folks we are talking to, but not necessarily feeling compelled to agree with every aspect of how that country operates. We hope that through time and through modeling of our principles and our behavior, we can perhaps have some long term influence in countries. Where we might share some concerns and some values, but not all we are not going the world to change every society. We are there to protect the interests of the Jewish people and to advance normal relations with and respect for Israel and widen the protection for minorities universally and respect for human rights universally. But we will steer our way through this challenging environment. In every country we operate in as we have learned to do through more than a century of diplomatic activity it may be challenging from time to time, but I will tell you that in a country like the which celebrates tolerance which has expressed a desire for close relations with the Middle East's sold democracy. which aspires to an even closer deeper relationship with the United States. We have a lot to work with and we are looking forward to working with our friends in the UAE. The opening of this office is a very exciting step for our organization Jason and one for which you are do tremendous Kudos. So congratulations on the step in. Thank you so much for joining us here on.

Coming up next