It’s been a long couple of weeks. Dave Chappelle tells resentful jokes about Jews. Sally Rooney won’t allow her book to be translated into Hebrew. An environmental advocacy group withdrew from a voting rights march “due to the participation of a number of Zionist organizations.”
And the ongoing vilification of Israel and the Jewish community on college campuses proceeds unabated. This week, at Virginia Tech University, where the Graduate Student Senate passed the most recent in the series of BDS resolutions that emerge periodically from student activists and their misguided advocacy, and at the University of Illinois, where Jewish students filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Education alleging an anti-Semitic campus environment often exacerbated by faculty, administrators and staff.
We are ready for some good news, or at least a temporary respite from the cultural denigration that has now become an unhappy, exhausting but largely endurable aspect of Jewish life in America. But there are reasons for legitimate optimism regarding the prospect for notable progress in the Middle East, that, among other things, would make these stateside challenges less burdensome.
When Israel forged working agreements to normalize relations with four Middle Eastern Arab states last year, even the historic nature of the cooperation with Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates received a less enthusiastic response than was deserved given the wide political divide between the Trump administration and most American Jews. But the Abraham Accords have laid the groundwork for increasingly strong economic and societal ties between Israel and these countries. After decades of conventional wisdom that presumed relationships between Israel and the Muslim world could not improve until Palestinian issues had been fully resolved, these treaties are demonstrating that peace between Israelis and Palestinians could come as a result of improved relations rather than a condition for them.
That peace is still a long way off, but we’ve already seen greatly enhanced trade and tourism activity between Israel and these other countries. And in the last several days, other potentially impactful steps have emerged. Most tantalizing is the possibility that regional behemoth Saudi Arabia might be considering a U.S. offer to join the Abraham Accords and normalize relationships with Israel.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan broached the subject when he met this month with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and reportedly received a cautious but positive response. While the United States and Saudi Arabia still have many differences of their own to resolve, any steps the Saudis take toward better relationships with Israel could lead to similar progress with other countries in the region.
It has also been reported that Israel and the U.A.E. are planning a joint space mission in which the two countries could plant their respective national flags on the moon by 2024. The mission would also include the launching of a satellite that the two countries would operate cooperatively and use for a series of collaborative research projects that suggests a much longer-term partnership.
Of less substantive importance but symbolically valuable is the prospect of Israel teaming up with other countries in the region to host a future World Cup soccer championship. A combined bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico was awarded the 2026 Cup, which has created a precedent that led Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA (the international governing body of soccer/football) to suggest that Israel, the U.A.E. and other Middle Eastern countries could join forces to hold the 2030 World Cup with games played throughout the region.
The likelihood of a Middle Eastern World Cup that includes Israel is exceedingly small. But the fact that Infantino’s suggestion was not immediately dismissed (or ridiculed) is encouraging. Soccer fans’ passions often spring from nationalist and ethnic roots. That the idea of such a joint effort is even faintly plausible means that the street passions that Middle Eastern leaders often use to avoid forward progress might not be an insurmountable obstacle.
Each development represents a small step forward at best. But taken together, it becomes easier to see a path forward to a better future for Israel and throughout the Middle East—and one that makes the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic agitators here in our own backyard a little less bothersome.
Dan Schnur teaches political communications at UC Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. He hosts the weekly webinar “Politics in the Time of Coronavirus” for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall.
This article first appeared in the Jewish Journal.