You don’t have to look far to see polarization all over the world. Valerie Leiser Greenfield sees opportunities beyond the disunity.
The business development consultant for American and Israeli companies has taken it upon herself to create bridges between people—through women. She formed Doves—Women Making Peace, whose mission is for women to act as catalysts for change. Women from countries throughout the Middle East including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Saudi Arabia and, of course, Israel are invited to join.
Greenfield is no stranger to politics, and she says she was born with an inherent love for Israel. Her introduction to politics and diplomacy began when she was still at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations. She went on to work in Washington for 30 years, beginning as an aide to Sen. Bill Armstrong (R-Colo.), who served on the Budget, Banking and Finance Committees.
She remembers the atmosphere those days as respectful, where the two sides of the political aisle could share drinks after work. Now, there is a dangerous, vitriolic mindset, she says.
She went on to work in the Reagan White House and later for George W. H. Bush, in legislative affairs, representing the president’s view to visiting senators and performing research. She subsequently earned two master’s degrees, one in international business and another in international security and economic policy.
“I always knew I wanted to make aliyah, but it was a long-term plan as my children were young,” explains Greenfield. “Around 9/11, I became fascinated by Israel’s counterterrorism approach versus that of the U.S. I began taking trips to Israel and met with Israeli security companies with technology that could benefit the American market.”
A former lobbyist for Honeywell International, she started researching counterterrorism. She worked for the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Her interest led to her writing a book, “Backyard Jihad: How Parents Can Detect the Invisible Threat of Radicalization,” which examines the psychology of how youths become terrorists.
“I felt the media was not doing their homework. They never asked why a school shooting occurred. They simply chalked it off to a lone wolf. There’s a reason they became what they did and often they weren’t really on their own. These kids were meeting influencers. Generally, terrorism is not [occurring] in a vacuum.”
In 2021, when her youngest child turned 19, Greenfield finally realized her dream of immigrating to Israel.
“I was very excited about the Abraham Accords,” she notes. “As a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition I was invited to go to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. While Saudi Arabia was not yet a part of the accords, I found myself among a welcoming group of people interested in Israeli technology. So I decided to find startups that wanted to reach new markets, and I began introducing them to Israeli technology companies.”
While traveling to the various Arab nations, Greenfield noticed that while the Emirates has attracted around 100,000 Israeli visitors, Emiratis don’t generally come to Israel. She visited Saudi Arabia and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and found him to be more than open and interested in normalizing relations with Israel.
“Business is a great common denominator,” she explains. “Once they are exchanging riyals and shekels you have cooperation and realize how much we have in common, instead of our differences.”
The Abrahamic Business Circle asked Greenfield to sit on a panel at its Dubai conference to discuss women in business and her experiences in Saudi Arabia. There were many questions about her trips to the kingdom and how she felt going there alone as a Jewish woman.
“I explained that there was a tremendous level of respect even though they are theocratic. The Saudis are proud of who they are. They are proud of their religion, and they respect me because I am proud of mine. I explained that, as a woman entrepreneur, while I use my American passport, I felt very welcome. They were open to creating business opportunities and accepting our religion and our modern view of women.”
Shortly after that, she recalls, social reforms were implemented that gave Saudi women more freedom of movement and eased laws on dress code, gender segregation and participation in the workforce.
As Greenfield engaged in international business, the concept for Doves was born. She put together a board of trustees that includes herself; Chairwoman Countess Esther de Pommery from Switzerland; and the chairwoman of the board of trustees, H.H. Shaikha Jawaher Al Khalifa of Abu Dhabi, representing the three Abrahamic religions.
The managing board is also diverse including women from Switzerland, Monaco, Spain and the UAE.
Abraham and Sarah open their tents
“Women have something very special to bring,” Greenfield says. “Women have the ability to open our hearts and homes and create relationships in different ways than men do. And that is needed in the bridging process. When Abraham and Sarah opened their tents, they had to go out and bring people in.”
While the countries of the region other than Israel are all Islamic, she noted that each has very different qualities, and therefore the approach must vary. The UAE is very modern, and 80% of its residents are ex-pats, so it’s different from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
“Since very few were coming here, I invited women from Dubai, Morocco, Bahrain and other countries to come to Israel,” Greenfield says. “We want you to come and join us here in Israel and learn about each other.”
The Doves’ International Peace Conference is scheduled for April 29 through May 1 at the Tel Aviv Hilton and is open to a carefully culled group of high-level women who can use their influence to teach others in their own countries the lessons they learn at the programs.
The conference will include modules on education, technology and politics and include not-for-profit organizations such as Leket Israel—The National Food Bank. Tours led by Eve Harrow, a well-known tour guide, will showcase Israel, its myriad cultures and religious sites, and help women see Israel through other women’s eyes.
Greenfield explains: “The first day will focus on women as individuals—who am I? The second will focus on others and we will learn about each other. The third will focus on what we can understand together and the fourth on the take-home message—what I have learned about others and on the various subjects covered and how can these concepts help my country, other women, educators and diplomats.”
“While women may frequently be behind the scenes,” she sums up, “they are often the impetus for influencing change.”