‘It feels like we are dating’: Israelis, Emiratis embark on business love affair

Israeli venture capitalists who visited the UAE got a warm welcome in Dubai: “It feels like we are dating.”

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The ink was barely dry on the newly signed peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates when a planeload of Israeli high-tech investors touched down in the Gulf country to meet their Gulf counterparts and pursue bilateral business opportunities.

Foreign news outlets, more used to reporting on tensions in the region, found themselves faced with a positive news story with both Emirati and Israeli business leaders gushing about the potential to move the region ahead economically.

“It feels like we are dating,” said Jerusalem deputy mayor Fleur Hassan Nahoum, who recently visited Dubai and was interviewed by Gulf Business, which describes itself as the region’s “preferred magazine for decision-makers, corporate leaders and high-ranking government executives.”

“In all our conversations and the new friends we’ve made [in the UAE], what is really clear is that both sides have a real thirst for a warm peace. And I’ve never experienced that,” said Nahoum, who is also co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council.

“I think we are living in historic times, we are curious about each other and we want to get to know each other. It’s so interesting and exciting – we are really making history here,” Nahoum told the magazine.

The New York Times ran a special report Saturday describing not just the warm welcome the Arab hosts gave the Israeli entrepreneurs, but also revealing the warm emotions on both sides.

“The speed with which the once-covert relationship burst into the open surprised even veteran insiders: The rancor of more than seven decades of Arab-Israeli conflict seemed to melt away in a matter of days,” the New York Times reported.

Dubai TV presenter Youssef Abdulbari hosted veteran Jerusalem venture capitalist and former Knesset member Erel Margalit, who told the Times that the atmosphere in the studio was “like falling in love.”

Margalit, the head of Jerusalem Venture Partners investment group, chartered a plane and flew Israeli investors and journalists to Dubai for a four-day mission at the end of October to seek out new business ventures in a place where Israelis had gone before. But they had done so under the radar and usually using a foreign passport if they were dual citizens.

This time, Margalit led an official Israeli delegation using their Israeli passports, with the participants telling reporters they felt safe and welcomed as they toured around the UAE.

“For us Israelis, after reaching New York, London and Paris and Asia, the place that we were longing to reach for a very long time is so close to home, which is our own region,” Margalit told Abdulbari.

On his return, Margalit wrote on his website that the Israeli mission was “nothing less than historic,” saying the coronavirus pandemic had forced change on the world where countries had to innovate and collaborate, and “cooperation between our two counties has the potential to lead that change.”

Margalit admitted that “our companies have been in business contact with the Emirates for a number of years,” but that the Israel-UAE peace treaty will allow the companies “to expand this network of relationships, deepen the ties significantly, and allow more and more Israeli companies and entrepreneurs to be part of this connection and success.”

Emirati investor Mohamed Mandeel, COO of Abu Dhabi’s Royal Strategic Partners group, told the Times he felt a sense of kinship with the Israelis, telling them he had taken a DNA test and found a match for his rare Babylonian gene with someone living in Tel Aviv.

“If we set aside the religious ideologies and 70 years fueled by conflict, wars and the media, we end up with human beings,” Mandeel said. “We share the same food, the same DNA, the same look.” He described the Israelis as “cousins.”