The UAE needs Jews as a bulwark against Islamism

This Jewish Chronicle article by the Emirati ambassador to the UK,  Mansoor Abulhoul, emphasises that a common front against Iran is not the only motivation behind the peace accord with Israel. The UAE needs to build a ‘tolerant’ and pluralistic society including different faith communities to serve as a bulwark against Islamism.  (But as this article by Michael Bassinshows, the philosemitic Emiratis only make up 17 percent of the population).  (With thanks: Lily)

The UAE and Israel flags flying in the city of Netanya (Photo: Flash 90)

 Last week’s announcement of a peace treaty between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is an historic event and momentous step on a path towards peace that the UAE began many years ago. Peaceful, normal relations will benefit both countries, as well as stopping the annexation of land in the West Bank, thus keeping alive the possibility of a Palestinian state.

One of the benefits is to help move the Arab world away from a relentless focus on fighting those who are of different faiths or backgrounds from our own.

A similar change has taken place in the position of the Jewish community within the UAE. Although Jews have been coming to live and work in the country for many years, they have kept a low profile. There was a hesitation even to reach out to other Jews, such was the uncertainty about whether they could fully celebrate their faith and identity.

Things are changing fast.

Last year Celebrating Tolerance, a book edited by Andrew Thompson, canon of the UAE’s Anglican church, told the story of the UAE’s fledgling Jewish community. A chief rabbi has been appointed to administer to the Jewish community. As that Rabbi, Yehuda Sarna, has written elsewhere, he has “represented the Jewish community among other religious leaders in the region; participated in research-action groups on violent extremism; shot videos for the Ministry of Culture; dialogue with the architects and designers of the Abrahamic Family House and spoke at a National Day of Prayer addressing the pandemic.

All of this is happening with the strong support of the UAE’s leadership, which celebrated 2019 as our official Year of Tolerance. This philosophy was central to the outlook of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, one of the architects of the UAE. Without it, he said, “no rapport can be maintained between friends and brothers”. Intolerant ideology has given us nothing but the ruin and violence that wracks parts of our region.

Indeed, the presence of thriving religious and ethnic communities living among us helps us to ensure our young people are not lured by the embittered supremacism of the Islamist cause.

Emiratis are brought up to be well-rounded individuals who revere their own traditions whilst appreciating all others. They feel entirely at home in a place like the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a universal museum where the products of all civilisations and different faiths are displayed together. And they will be proud of the Abrahamic Family House, an extraordinary new national monument that is due to be finished by 2022. An interfaith complex like no other, it will be a beautiful garden containing Jewish, Muslim and Christian houses of worship. The synagogue will be completely unlike the low-profile one that has operated behind anonymous walls in Dubai.

Located on prime land next to the Louvre, this new synagogue is intended to be seenf. And it will soon be joined, if all goes well, by an Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi.

The path towards normalisation will not be straightforward. There is much left to negotiate. The rights of the Palestinian people must be secured. We will continue to fight for their statehood and dignity.

But in spite of our disagreements, we view peace and dialogue as the means to achieving a more stable and secure Middle East. If we can raise our children in peace and tolerance, the Middle East can escape from its dark period of conflict and crisis and we can together build a better future.

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