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  • Writer's pictureIsrael Gulf Report

Ellie Cohanim discusses coexistence and decrease in antisemitism in wake of Abraham Accords

Ellie Cohanim is the Deputy Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism. She has been in the UAE over the weekend of December 11 and held important meetings and seen directly the importance of the Abraham Accords. She spoke to Seth J. Frantzman of The Jerusalem Post about the trip.

She emphasizes that "there is a direct correlation —with normalization of relations with Israel will be a corresponding decrease in anti -Semitism in any society."

Together with the broader mission of Elan Carr, the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Cohanim is responsible for efforts for the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America in combating antisemitism. See some of her tweets here. And here.

The full text of her interview is below.

I arrived in Dubai on Friday night and it was incredible to see the tremendous progress of the Abraham Accords upon landing! I understood there were three shabbat services and Hanukkah lighting services there, with more in neighboring Abu Dhabi. It was a thrill to join Rabbi Elie Abadie and his congregation at the Jewish Community of the Emirates with JCE president Ross Kriel, for a Hannukah lighting ceremony, services and a communal dinner. I was asked to address the congregation and wanted to focus on the following: when you work on combating anti-Semitism you spend so much time fighting the darkness, and this 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; and the warm welcome that Jews are receiving here is incredible. We are in a historic moment for all of us to observe and treasure.

I was witness to that on Friday at Rabbi Abadie's congregation, and then again on Saturday night with Rabbi Levi Duchman of Chabad of Dubai who had a Hanukkah lighting at the Burj al Khalifa with a concert and Jewish music playing in this incredible public space! There were many Israelis and Jews present, and all celebrating in an Arab country . Everything happening here is due to the profound leadership of the Sheikh Nahyan and the leadership of the Emirates. One of their initiatives that has been announced for some time is the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi. I was privileged to see it and the campus being built with a synagogue, mosque and church all in one location. If you realize that throughout the region, what we have seen since the 1940s is the closing of synagogues and Jewish community centers-- and here in the emirates you find synagogues opening! It is thanks to the leadership of Sheikh Nahyan and President Trump and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner and the team, who have changed the course of history to allow this reunion of what I call cousins; and brothers and sisters. The Jewish presence in the region goes back thousands of years; and Jews and Arabs had warm relations for many of those years. We were friends, neighbors and business associates. But the course of history unfortunately meant 800,000 Jews were eventually forced to flee their homes.

With normalization of relations with Israel will be a corresponding decrease in anti -Semitism in any society

I was born in Iran myself, and after the 1979 revolution my family and I were forced to flee Iran due to the rising antisemitism. So I am one of these indigenous 800,000 Jews who lost our homelands. And to now see this developing historic shift is something that I truly treasure, and all of us should treasure. We dreamt for peace for our children and grandchildren, and to see this warm peace in our lifetimes is truly historic.

I also had the good fortune of visiting the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum with His Excellency Ahmed al Mansoori, which has launched an exhibit on Jewish history and Israel; and recently signed an MOU with the Azrieli Foundation, ASF, and Heritage Center for Jews of Arab lands. The MOU will include work on Jews of Arab lands. This is an extraordinary development where a museum in the region will feature the history of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa with the great potential of educating widely about this history.

I also had the great pleasure of visiting with Solly Wolf president of the Chabad of Dubai along with Rabbi Levi Duchman; and the Chabad villa here in Dubai and to see the extraordinary community there. There is a flourishing of the Jewish community here in Dubai which undoubtedly thousands of Jews worldwide will want to come see and participate in.

While the Abraham Accords was an incredible surprise in august, the society here has been, for a long time, doing the work that laid the groundwork for such a historic development. The UAE has taken a holistic approach to countering extremism, including revising educational materials in schools and also implementing programs to fight extremism. There has been a real effort towards promoting religious pluralism and tolerance among the various and diverse communities in the emirates. This is a society that was able to take the bold leadership step of signing the accords and normalizing relations with Israel, because of the good work had already been undertaken in creating a tolerant society capable of taking this step towards peace in the region. What I have found extraordinary since the signing of the Abraham Accords is the people-to-people reaction. There is a warm embrace of Jews and Israelis in the Emirates and that is the fruit of the labor of the UAE's leadership. The citizenry is truly pluralistic and tolerant.

What comes next?

The UAE was the first to normalize relations, followed by the Kingdom of Bahrain. I want to talk a bit about Bahrain, which has had a Jewish community that has been a functioning since 1860. To the great credit of King Hamad, his majesty appointed a Jewish woman --Houda Nonoo as Ambassador to Washington back in 2008. I’m not sure how many other countries can point to having a woman ambassador much less a Jewish woman ambassador! This fall Our Office signed an MOU with the King Hamad centre for peaceful coexistence to partner together to combat antisemitism and anti-Zionism. With these actions we can truly see the UAE and Bahrain are models for the world. In terms of next steps, today a visible Jew, such as a man wearing a kippah or a woman wearing a star of David, is safer in Bahrain and the UAE than in Europe. So when it comes to what is next. I think that if the leadership of the emirates and Bahrain and other countries such as morocco and Sudan, if they can exhibit what coexistence really looks like, they have this opportunity to show what it means for Jews to practice Judaism safely and without fear of being targeted for being Jews.

The other thing we can look towards the emirates and Bahrain to, is for their educational materials and we hope other countries in the region will follow in their footsteps in revising their curricular material to not include any incitement to hatred. Too often in the middle east. We find innocent children are influenced towards hatred and intolerance and it takes a tremendous amount of work to undo what these innocent children are being taught. Because they went through this process of curricular revision can serve as a model by teaching others to revise educational material and teach children to grow up with values of pluralism and tolerance.

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