Could you tell us how you got involved in Israel-Gulf ties and how you see the current relationships being built?
As you know I have a background in Israel advocacy and public relations and I do social media with my company today. I became involved with Israel-Arabic issues because I saw a problem of misinformation in social media and press in Arabic, and I saw an opportunity 8 years ago, creating content on social media from private civilians as opposed to government entities.
There was a comprehensive program in Arabic with the MFA and the army, but there wasn't much in Arabic by Israelis (or diaspora Jews) speaking Arabic, so I sought out volunteers and activists and created friendships in the field, including people in Israel who are Arabic speakers and people in Arab states, such as Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan.
The last year and a half in particular, I noticed on Twitter there was a lot more activity from Gulf states and also with the political climate shift following what happened with Trump's policies in the Middle East. We kind of knew and anticipated there would be a shift in the Gulf states as they grow closer, even publicly, to Israel due to a strategic alliance against Iran. What's interesting is we also saw this reflected in person-to-person relations on social media. Suddenly, I was tweeting in English (even Hebrew) and interacting with people in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and since then I have seen nothing but positivity from both sides, which is unusual.
As someone who saw the chatter on social media on this issue for several years, you always see the few people who are pro-normalization and then of course a lot of people who are nasty and hateful. That isn't the case today…and I’m not saying those people [negative] are not there anymore but its overwhelmingly positive, one on one and online. I’m not getting spam comments that are anti-Israel. Immediately after the peace agreement was first announced with the UAE, I began to speak with Asher Fredman and I was one of the first activists to join an Israeli-Emirati community to get to know each others cultures better. So since then I've been involved with that and I plan to be there in January 2021, but we will see with COVID-19.
So you saw the pulse of the change?
Yes, yesterday I posted a photo of the supermarket in Dubai where they had Israeli and Emirati flags displayed proudly – it is unusual to see them celebrating the peace agreement and it's so different publicly than the approach of Jordan and Egypt. In the UAE they are thrilled about peace and normalization and there are so many aspects happening. I’ve been overwhelmed because there is hi-tech and medicine, digital activism, investment, everyone wants to collaborate from both sides. Especially during this difficult year, it's nice to see something so positive.
Another positive thing that's been a byproduct is the recent relaxation of the Sharia laws, this was previously a problem for tourists. As a US citizen I always wanted to go to Dubai and I could go on the American passport even prior to the normalization agreement but the response from fellow Israelis was always concern over such regulations that it could be problematic. I think it’s a positive step that we see from the perspective of the state, they recognize this is a problem for investments, foreign residents, etc. and they are refining it.
What are your hopes?
I hope to build the relations I started with my friends and connect and network with people in my field. As someone born in the US, I have good connections in the US and I have a good grasp of marketing and digital media there. I'd like to brainstorm and collaborate with other professionals in my field from the Emirates and Gulf and see what messaging works and understand the mentality, that is what I want to do personally.
In the big picture, another thing I think is positive is that this sets an example for the rest of the Arab world and it is powerful that they are having such an open and public collaboration because it will make other countries less resistant to do the same thing, such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco and others. I believe it will also cause who are openly hostile to normalization to do the same, it really doesn’t benefit anyone to be enemies.
On Iraq and Lebanon?
Yes, I was reading how Iran’s policy is essentially to blackmail countries, as in "you’re with us or we will harm you." This is a major problem, and it makes it even more important that we see what we see publicly – at a private level and at the government level, this normalization and collaboration.
You can see a video I created here with two other activists, Ido Daniel and Yoseph Haddad here upon the announcement of the normalization: https://www.facebook.com/IsraelArabic/posts/3234965559874163