The Changing Middle Eastern Tide | Opinion

Dominating the international news these days is the renewed suspected covert operations and overt tension between Israel and Iran due to the Biden administration's efforts to reenter some version of the Iran nuclear deal. A potential victim of the Biden administration's shift to Iran is a small but growing movement within the Arab world toward combating anti-Semitism and promoting peaceful Jewish-Muslims relations. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example, the seeds of friendly relations between the Muslim and Jewish communities are sprouting. Efforts there serve as a model of peacemaking and collaboration that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

The Jewish community in the Emirates, small but growing, is led by Rabbis Yehuda Sarna and Elie Abadie, the latter of whom speaks fluent Arabic. And on Wednesday, April 7, the businessman and former government official Ahmed Obaid Al-Mansoori hosted the first-ever Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration in an Arab country, at his Crossroads of Civilizations Museum in Dubai. The evening served as the opening for a new exhibition documenting the atrocities of the Holocaust, with items labeled in both Arabic and English. While the World War II-era friendship between Adolf Hitler and Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, has been well-documented, Al-Mansoori's museum aims to highlight stories of Muslim courage in the face of the Nazi regime. Sultan Mohammed V of Morocco, the Berlin-based Egyptian doctor Mohamed Helmy and the Algerian religious leader Si Kaddour Benghabrit each were recognized during the ceremony for having saved many Jewish lives. A mezuzah in honor of each, containing texts from the Hebrew Bible and donated by the Jewish community, will hang on the museum's doorposts. As guest speaker from the United States that evening, I can attest to the visceral power of mutual support felt by all those in attendance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Hebrew remarks delivered that same day at Israel's Yad Vashem, noted the unprecedented nature of what was occurring. "Who could have imagined," he wondered, that an Arab country would have a formal ceremony marking Jewish victims. Using the Hebrew word for "hope," tikvah, also the name of the Israeli national anthem, he described the shift in the Arab world "with regards to Israel and with regards to its relationship with the Holocaust." Cultural and educational leaders in Bahrain, which also normalized relations with Israel as a signee of the Abraham Accords, have partnered with delegates from both the UAE and Israel to form a new organization called Sharaka. A translation of the Arabic word for "partnership," Sharaka seeks to combat anti-Semitism and promote Holocaust awareness in the Arab world.

Flags of the U.S., UAE, Israel and
Flags of the U.S., UAE, Israel and Bahrain flying in Netanya, Israel JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration's eagerness to re-engage with Iran, a regional threat to both Israel and the major Sunni Arab countries, has sent a shudder to all those who are working toward this new reconciliation. On Sunday, U.S Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin seemed to address some of these concerns. He declared that "our bilateral relationship with Israel is central to regional stability" and that "our commitment to Israel is enduring and ironclad." While the U.S.'s commitment to Israel's security is of course both crucial and welcome, the early seeds of multifaceted regional benefits planted by the Abraham Accords should be encouraged to flourish across even wider terrain.

The benefits of the agreements are already pronounced. Tourism, an industry crippled amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, has surged between newly friendly states. Thousands of Israelis flocked to the Emirates over the recent Passover holiday. The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building and the centerpiece of downtown Dubai, now houses a kosher restaurant. The sharing of security and defense resources, water technology, and business ties stand to mutually benefit countless residents throughout the region.

What is at stake, however, is more than mere peaceful relations between nation-states—it is a new spirit of kinship between two historic peoples. The feeling in the air during the Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration was not simply one of coexistence and tolerance, but one of reuniting members of a long-separated family. The concrete economic and technological benefits are no doubt important to current strategic alliances. But the coming together of two faiths, in friendship, holds possibilities unseen for millennia. The biblical brothers Isaac and Ishmael stand to embrace each other once more. This opportunity calls for attention and investments, in areas like education, that humanize and enrich people's understanding of one another.

As the evening's event drew to a close last Wednesday, while a memorial prayer for victims of the Holocaust was being recited by a rabbi in Arabic, a muezzin's call to prayer could be heard from a nearby tower. The overlapping hymns, while remaining distinct, resonated with a hint of harmony. Let's hope that the Biden administration realizes the transformative nature of what is happening.

Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman is the president of Yeshiva University.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.