A momentous week in Israel - Gulf relations: GITEX, Hanukkah and more

An extraordinary week in Israel-Gulf relations was on display between December 6 and 14. It was a week that began with a momentous agreement between the Crossroad of Civilizations Museum and ended with an unprecedented Hanukkah in Dubai and conversation between Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and the King of Bahrain. At the center of the new ties are the large number of flights now arriving in Dubai from Tel Aviv with several carriers now servicing an Israeli public that is eager to see the Gulf.

The December 6 event at the Crossroad of Civilizations Museum last week with Museum head Ahmed al-Mansoori, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum and Rabbi Elie Abadie showcased new interfaith and cultural ties. An MOU was signed with the Heritage Center for Middle East and North Africa Jewry.

Next came GITEX 2020 where some 1,200 exhibitors from 60 countries included a large delegation from Israel for the first time in Dubai. Around 150 Israeli companies, organizations and non-profits joined two delegations that attended. The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel Export Institute and Bank Hapoalim supported the large group that came with some 400 Israelis. An inaugural UAE-Israel Future Digital Economy Summit also took place with speakers from the UAE, Israel and the region. Watch some of the excited Israelis discuss their companies and how they felt attending GITEX.

Business networking underpinned last week’s successful meetings between Israelis, people from the Gulf and around the world who are based in Dubai. A number of opportunities for partnerships, from real estate to cultural events, were discussed. A delegation of Israeli mayors also came to Dubai and the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation sent a delegation.

US Deputy Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism Ellie Cohanim spoke to Seth Frantzman and The Jerusalem Post about how her “visit was all about shining the light on a model society for the region and for the world. The amount of coexistence you see in the Emirates and the religious pluralism and tolerance you see when walking the streets of the emirates is profound.”

A large Hanukkah event took place below the Burj Khalifa with festivities starting on December 10 and continuing after the weekend. These important events were connected to joint Hanukkah candle lighting by the Consuls General of the UAE and Israel in New York. The important role of Jewish community leaders in the UAE in preparing the ground for these celebrations was acknowledged and a delegation from the UAE and Bahrain also travelled to Israel on December 11 to meet with President Rivlin and see the country (see some tweets about the group’s trip here). Overall Hanukkah this year was unlike any people had seen in the UAE and the region. Bahrain and its small Jewish community, joined in wishing Jews a happy Hanukkah.

Read our interesting travel blog about Nebi Samuel in Israel and the story of Hanukkah.

On the political front, Minister of State Anwar Gargash discussed the importance of the Abraham Accords with Joel Rosenberg, reports indicate Oman could be next in line to normalize ties after Morocco, and Rivlin spoke to the King of Bahrain. Khaleej Times reports that Israel hopes for an embassy to open in the UAE by early next year. Demand for consular services in Dubai will skyrocket as some 50,000 people are expected to travel back and forth in December with some 100 flights a week operating. Hurdles regarding visas still need to be sorted out.

Since the signing of the Abraham Accords the week of December 6-14 has been one of the most momentous so far. This is because it illustrated the massive economic potential that creates potential partnerships for the innovative economy of Dubai and Tel Aviv. The cultural and interfaith events, as well as symbols of tolerance being generated in the UAE, represent a major milestone in the region.