OpinionMiddle East

An open letter to Tom Friedman from the UAE

Your assertion that “among the Israeli groups aggressively reaching out to the Gulf Arabs to come visit are right-wing Jewish settlers” is completely unfounded.

The flags of the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahrain on the side of a road in Netanya on Sept. 14, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
The flags of the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahrain on the side of a road in Netanya on Sept. 14, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie
Elie Abadie
Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie is the senior rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates and the rabbi of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities.

Mr. Thomas Friedman, in your March 2 New York Times op-ed—“Jumping Jehoshaphat! Have You Seen How Many Israelis Just Visited The U.A.E?”—you say that you have “lived through the shotgun marriage between Israelis and Lebanese Christians.”

But that was no marriage; it was barely an engagement.

How can you compare that relationship with the Abraham Accords? You are still living in the past, with the old “conventional wisdom” of Mideast dynamics.

Here’s some real news: There is a new Middle East that has passed you by and demonstrated to you and the rest of the western world that fresh thinking is what was necessary to break the mold and the old narrative. Clearly, that has eluded you.

Your infatuation with “multiparty democracy” is utterly misplaced and out of sync with the reality of democratic governments and countries. In 1947, Winston Churchill told the British House of Commons that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

I have lived in several “democratic countries,” including the United States, and have seen the rampant corruption of democratically elected political leaders, their self-interest placed above the interest of the electorate, their broken promises and their egotistical selfishness; what’s good for the electorate is not good for them.

What we have in the United Arab Emirates is a very benevolent monarchy and an elected assembly, the Federal National Council (FNC). The needs of the population are taken into account, and change of laws and regulations is as swift as the need of the populace demanding it. Unlike in “democratically elected” governments, in the UAE we don’t have lobbyists, interest-driven advocates, money exchanging hands, worries about the political leaders’ ability to be elected by making promises that they know very well they will never fulfill

As the senior rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates and the rabbi of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities—and living in the Gulf region for the past four months—I have personally experienced how welcomed the Abraham Accords are by the UAE population.

You state that the Abraham Accords are being “driven … from the bottom by tourists, students and businesses.”

This is flat-out untrue. It is being driven by the country’s population of all backgrounds—young and old, Emiratis and ex-pats, socialites and influencers—with the blessing of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his elected FNC. With the unified efforts of the whole population, the UAE has already become an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship in many areas of modern human endeavors.

Not surprisingly, your assertion that “among the Israeli groups aggressively reaching out to the Gulf Arabs to come visit are right-wing Jewish settlers” is completely unfounded. While here, I have personally welcomed thousands of Israelis, including Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, Arab Druze and many from the Palestinian Authority-administration territories. All are thrilled and enthusiastic about the Abraham Accords and want to see the rest of the Arab countries follow suit.

Practically nothing of what you have advised and predicted for the Middle East in the last 30 years has ever happened. You have always written the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

You call it the “Abraham Accords Washing.” The only thing that needs washing is your old-fashioned narrative. Thanks to the accords, there is a warm, new light in the Middle East for all its people.

Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie is the senior rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates and the rabbi of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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