Arab and Israeli delegates praise Abraham’s accords on visit to Bay Area – J.


“The agreements, in my humble opinion, mark the beginning of the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict. “

That was the optimistic assessment shared by Dan Feferman, a former IDF intelligence officer and now director of global affairs for Sharaka, a non-governmental organization, with an online and in-person audience gathered at the Isaiah Temple in Lafayette on Monday.

Arabic for “partnership,” Sharaka launched last year with funding from Israeli and American donors. Its mission is to “realize the potential” of the Abrahamic Accords, the historic normalization accords brokered by the Trump administration between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Feferman, a former national security analyst for the IDF and a member of the Jewish People Policy Institute think tank, is aware that peace between Israel and its neighbors has not been achieved. But since the wars of the twentieth century, the diplomatic map of the region has changed so much – as evidenced by the normalization agreements – that the old framework of the conflict as an intractable conflict between cultures, if not civilizations, has become irrelevant.

“The countries of the region are saying one by one: enough is enough, he said.

The weather in the bay area was cold and rainy on Monday night, but the vibe inside the Isaiah Temple was definitely sunny, as a few dozen worshipers sat wearing masks in the main shrine and many more beamed. on Zoom. Six Sharaka delegates who had arrived from the Middle East just a day before described how historic agreements between Israel and four predominantly Muslim nations began to change the region in ways big and small.

They described Emirati students studying at Israeli universities – in Hebrew – for the first time; Israeli journalist Michal Divon becoming the first to join an editorial office in Dubai; and Asma Alatwi from Bahrain starting the country’s first Hebrew language academy and finding great demand for it.

Last month J. reported on a pioneering UAE-Israeli kidney exchange made possible by research at Stanford.

Then there is, of course, that favorite Israeli pastime: travel.

“You walk around Dubai and hear only Hebrew spoken,” joked Omar Al Busaidy, a young Emirati diplomat and CEO of Sharaka. “It’s crazy.”

The delegation was surprisingly diverse. There was Al Busaidy, a Fulbright Muslim scholar in charge of economic affairs with the UAE Consulate in New York, wearing a pink kippah out of respect for Isaiah’s bimah. He was flanked by Hayvi Bouzo, a Kurdish radio and television journalist who grew up in Damascus, and Fatema Al Harbi, a young Bahraini activist wearing the hijab who told J. that she had lost friends because of his peace efforts with the Israelis. Next to them were Feferman, an American Israeli who grew up in South Bend, Indiana, and Chama Mechtaly, a Moroccan CEO and activist who went to Brandeis University and now jet sets between New York and Dubai.

Mechtaly grew up in a Muslim family and knew few Jews in the coastal city of Casablanca, but she was aware of Morocco’s rich Jewish history. She said her interest in peacemaking and diplomacy started in college, when her father told her that she had a Jewish history: her father, her grandfather, was an indigenous Jew from the mountains of the ‘Atlas in North Africa.

Two views of the renovated Temple Beth-El in Casablanca, Morocco, the city’s flagship synagogue and the only one open to outside visitors. (Photo / Sue Barnett)

“Because of colonialism and other ideologies that have shaped the region over the past 100 or 150 years,” her family’s “Jewish history” has been lost, Mechtaly said. “I am really committed to telling the stories of Jewish minorities and other minorities in the region to, in a sense, reclaim our pluralistic past. “

Established as a result of the accords, Sharaka sends various delegations of Jews, Muslims, Druze and Christians to the Gulf States, Israel and beyond to “deepen mutual understanding” between historically compartmentalized groups and beyond. forge personal bonds. While in Northern California, the delegation scheduled appearances at San Jose State University, the California Commonwealth Club, the Sacramento Jewish Federation, and the Wornick Jewish Day School.

Some critics of the Abraham’s Accords – widely reported to have been negotiated by Jared Kushner – say that without making concessions to the Palestinians on issues of settlement expansion or the military occupation of the West Bank, Israel and its partners further isolated and damaged prospects for peace.

Indeed, last May some of the worst fighting in years between Israel and Hamas left hundreds of deaths and destruction in Gaza.

Delegates said Sharaka is not taking an official position on what has often been called the “Palestinian issue” on Monday. The Palestinian cause is widely supported in the Arab world; Israel’s deal with the United Arab Emirates, the first of four, was conditional on Israel suspending its plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

“The UAE continues to support the Palestinians,” Al Busaidy said, mentioning vaccine shipments from the UAE to the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the pandemic, and a Palestinian pavilion at the ongoing exhibition. Dubai, which is similar to a World’s Fair. “We have always said that we support both people.

“I am very deeply pro-Palestinian and pro human rights,” Mechtaly said. “I see the need to stand up for Palestinian rights – but I don’t see it as mutually exclusive. I think we have to work both ways simultaneously.

Bouzo, the Syrian journalist, said she reserved hope that the agreements could benefit the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace by changing the outlook in the region from a “militant”, eliminationist approach to Israel to a more moderate one. .

“You have countries in the region saying, you know what, it hasn’t worked. Maybe we shouldn’t be supporting this status quo. It hasn’t been successful.”

Feferman pointed to the “pragmatism” of the signatories to the Abrahamic Accord. “I don’t think my friends here become born and raised Zionists,” he said, gesturing lightly to his colleagues.

“But there is a realization,” he added, “that when you are inclusive, regionally and nationally, it benefits your own society and it benefits your own economy. “

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