Following a recently broadcasted conversation with Fleur-Hassan Nahoum, current Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and co-founder of the UAE — Israel Business Council, I found it essential to narrow down concrete examples of the changing climate in the Middle East following the Abraham Accords, notably taking into account both the financial collaborations and cultural similarities of Israel and the Emirates.
Sharing our personal experiences traveling as both Jews and Israelis to the UAE following the recent normalization deal between the two countries, a shared daily life memory struck me as significant: Fleur’s husband and my own father and brothers found themselves wearing a kippah on the streets of Dubai on Shabbat evenings a few weeks apart. None of them would have felt safe doing so in London or Paris. This is just a small example of the Abraham Accords’ impact on the region. Just a year ago, the UAE refused to admit people with an Israeli stamp on their passport and had an outright ban on Israeli citizens. Fleur summarised the sentiment neatly: “We feel at home, don’t we?”. In return, we are both excited for Emiratis to visit Israel so that we can return the warm welcome they offered us. I look forward to their visiting the Temple Mount, enjoying the greenery they lack at home and experiencing the beautiful facets of Israeli society.
Looking past the obvious political and historical significance of the Accords, it is essential to understand how it will impact the lives of ordinary people: by providing new economic opportunities, alongside new horizons of travel, and new cultural exchanges that will contribute to a general reduction of certain hostilities in the region.
The credit for this must go to figures such as Fleur. For approximately two years, she and a friend — a businessman working in the Gulf and her now business partner Dorian Barak — envisioned an unprecedented business network in the neighborhood. As a Mizrahi woman of Jewish Middle Eastern and North African origins, she always had a particular excitement for the Arab world, many parts of which, due to cold peace agreements and boycotts, Israelis have been unable to visit for too long. Accordingly, the project chiefly focused on “people to people connection”. When the Abraham Accords were announced on September 15th, 2020, it was, to Fleur and her business partner, the time to put it into practice. They then moved very quickly in setting it up and, as Fleur explained, today the UAE-Israel Business Council is a community of 4000 people — Israelis (45%), Emiratis (40%) and people from around the globe (15%) — who exchange knowledge and experiences, enhancing each other’s business practices.
In addition to maintaining and advising a network of business people, companies, and investors, the Council hosts events to promote cooperation in business after decades of lost opportunities. It has already hosted events that address food, renewable energies, tourism, and even entrepreneurship in the UAE, but there are also plans to organize joint art exhibitions or education programs. The aim is to build ties “based on shared opportunities, economic benefits, and business partnerships”.
During the discussion, we agreed that one of the reasons for the Abraham Accords’ success is the cultural similarities between both nations and their peoples. Despite their historical disagreements, the UAE and Israel have quite a bit in common; for instance, both Middle Eastern nations are home to advanced tech- and innovation-oriented economies. part of our journey as ‘wandering Jews’, Fleur grew up in Gibraltar, I grew up between Paris and Singapore and we both studied and worked in the UK before moving to Israel. This is why, as Mizrahi Jews, Fleur and I both realize that we often have much in common culturally with Arabs than with the European or Asian Fleur pointed out that this is observable from our eating customs to our business etiquette. She also highlighted that in both Mizrahi and Arab business cultures, interpersonal relationships and trust-building are crucial to transactions.
Additionally, Fleur and I discussed media coverage of the Accords — it is hardly unusual for the global media to struggle with applauding Israel. Fleur correctly noted that the discrimination we have suffered as a religion and as a people has morphed into discrimination as a country. Worldwide, not only do the media seem to constantly blame Israel but they also often overlook or ignore its prowess. Yet ultimately, media representation matters far less than strengthened international relationships or overcoming challenges and threats together as a region for the first time.
Indeed, our future is full of bright opportunities and surprises. Fleur has already been approached by Moroccan businessmen about creating a similar project to the one now blossoming in the UAE, and there are hopes that Oman and Saudi Arabia may follow suit. It is Fleur’s opinion that this latest development is one step toward slowly rebuilding the tent of Abraham, the grandfather we share, and toward reuniting Ishmael and Isaac, a process that radical Islamist regimes have stalled for too long. It is time to move forward, and we are taking the correct path to do so. I hope that this story of understanding and dialogue will provide a blueprint for university campuses in London and beyond.
By Sharon Cohen, a CAMERA on Campus Fellow and President of the King’s College London Israel Society
This article was originally published on the official CAMERA on Campus Medium blog. Follow us on Medium.
Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons