PHOTO: The UAE has created a modern city of tall, grand buildings in Dubai.
BY DEBORAH MOON
The United Arab Emirates wants Israelis and Diaspora Jews to visit the nation that signed the Abraham Accords with Israel in September 2020.
Jewish Federation of Greater Portland President and CEO Marc Blattner spent the first week of November in the UAE with 13 other Federation professionals from across the United States. You can read his insights and observations from the visit in his Nov. 12 Marc’s Remarks email on the JFGP website.
In an interview after the trip, Blattner focused on the Accords. UAE, its neighbor Bahrain and Israel signed the Accords in Washington, D.C., Sept. 15, 2020.
“There is a real drive in the country to make this work,” he says. “Once signed, it was full steam ahead.”
Trade agreements were quickly signed, and tourism has been promoted between the two nations. El Al and other airlines promptly introduced flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai, UAE. All UAE hotels were immediately required to add a kosher kitchen for tourists. Since the Accords were signed, 100,000 Israelis have visited the UAE.
While Blattner was in the UAE, the Emirates Airlines announced plans to offer daily nonstop flights between Dubai and Tel Aviv beginning in December, designed to bring thousands of people from the UAE to Israel.
Unlike the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, Blattner says, “This is not a cold peace. This is an over-the-top warm peace.”
He adds that UAE has been preparing its people for this move.
The UAE government named 2019 the “Year of Tolerance.” There was a nationwide focus on both internal – tolerance for the 200 nationalities that live and work in the UAE – as well as external tolerance for others. The year included a book called Celebrating Tolerance, which featured the various religious communities of the UAE, including the Jewish community.
“The education was a way to get its people in the right frame of mind regarding tolerance,” Blattner says.
One of the Jewish leaders in the Emirates shared an article he wrote for PJ Library. “Our Jewish community is the first new Jewish community in a Muslim and Arabic country for at least 140 years,” wrote Ross Kriel, president of the Jewish Council of the Emirates.
Blattner was impressed by the people who have moved there to create Jewish spaces. His group met a Chabad rabbi who built a Jewish preschool and camp. The JDC (Jewish Distribution Committee) sent a leader from England to the UAE to create community. Rabbi Elie Abadie moved from New York to serve as Senior Rabbi of the UAE.
In his conclusion Kriel wrote, “As Jews, we are poised to embrace a future version of ourselves – a future in which Israel is deeply integrated in the region and Jewish-Muslim affairs are positive, reciprocal and conducive to peace, stability and prosperity.”
Federation leaders met with representatives of a group called Sharaka (partnership). In Marc’s Remarks, Blattner wrote about the group of younger Israelis and Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze, who are working together to make the region better.
Blattner was particularly impressed by a young man from Saudi Arabia, now living in the UAE. The young man told the visitors, “I was taught to hate Israel. Now (after the Year of Tolerance and the Accords), I embrace my Jewish brothers and sisters.”
“We heard that sentiment over and over,” says Marc. “It really sums up the trip.”