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  • Writer's pictureMiddle East Center for Reporting an Analysis

UAE's Zaki Nusseibeh: We don't believe in boycotts as a strategic means to impact policy

In talk with University of Haifa President Ron Robin, Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh, Cultural Advisor to the UAE President and Chancellor of the United Arab Emirates University, rejects BDS movement against Israel


Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh, Cultural Adviser to the President of the UAE and the Chancellor of UAE University, rejected and dismissed the effectiveness of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel in Zoom webinar last week.

In a conversation with University of Haifa President Ron Robin, Nusseibeh asserted that boycotts are not a useful strategy to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We don't believe in boycotts as a strategic means to impact policy,” he said. “I don’t think boycott strategies have really influenced any party or policy or behavior in this dispute. Other countries may believe in this, it is their choice, but we are hopeful that lifting the boycott and allowing for a flow of ideas and perceptions across two sides can impact policies far more than living in a bubble and hoping somehow this will bring about change in policy.”

Nusseibeh made these remarks in a talk hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York that explored whether scholars could be “peace builders” in the Middle East.

Robin, who has an intimate knowledge of the UAE after playing a major role in establishing New York University’s international campus in Abu Dhabi, agreed with Nusseibeh’s assessment.

Nusseibeh hailed the peace deal as a “breakthrough moment “toward achieving peace and stability and the region.”

“I was the dean of students during the Second Intifada when contentious conversations on campus were a daily occurance. I taught my students then - and I believe wholeheartedly today - the easiest thing to do is have conversations with like-minded people, but this is not what we do as scholars,” he said. “Instead, we have to reconcile these differences in politics and culture.”

As the president of University of Haifa where some 41% are Arabs, Robin is no stranger to seeing talk of the BDS movement on his campus.

“The issue of boycotts comes up often in both internal and external discussions, but shutting people out does nothing to solve our differences. We need to understand that there are different mores and values and the best place to address them is in academia. Our university is a shining example of how this can be done,” he added.

However, that is not to say that eschewing the boycott movement has made the Israeli-Palestinian issue is no longer a priority for the UAE.

Calling on the words of ancient Jewish philosopher Maimonides, Nusseibeh said, “For scholars seeking to build bridges, Maimonides teaches us that truth must be confronted and must not be ignored. This should be the guideline for bridging talks with Israel with whom we are keen to normalize relations and an Israel that continues its occupation of Palestinian land,” he said. “Haifa University is a perfect platform for encouraging scholars to tread this path. Haifa may have what it takes to encourage joint scholarly questions that do not draw a veil over our perception and that can use the normalization and Abraham Accords to help justice be realized.”

Nusseibeh hopes the peace agreement between Israel and the UAE will provide an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to “re-engage” in order to mend the decades long-rift between them and establish a two-state solution in line “with relevant UN resolutions and international law.”

Rejecting the boycott, though, coincides with the vision for peace outlined in the Israel-UAE peace accords signed last year.

Nusseibeh hailed the peace deal as a “breakthrough moment “toward achieving peace and stability and the region.”

He also applauded the accord’s promotion of mutual understanding, intellectual curiosity and building bridges as one of the foundations of the agreement.

“In a region often besieged by humanitarian crises, two dynamic and advanced societies are working together to be a powerful engine of progress and opportunity not just for the UAE and Israel but for the entire region,” he said.

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