‘It’s safer to be Jewish in the UAE than in the USA’

Israeli President Isaac Herzog met with Jewish community representatives in the United Arab Emirates.

By Maayan Hoffman, JNS.org

Israeli President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog met on Sunday evening with Jewish community representatives in the United Arab Emirates, including a senior rabbi who told them that the UAE is safer for Jews than the United States.

The Emirati Jewish leaders updated the president about their growing presence in the region and Herzog shared his vision for expanding the existing peace deal between the two countries.

“The dialogue between Judaism and Islam is at a fascinating point, and I very much look forward to further dialogue with Islamic countries,” Herzog told the Jewish leaders.

“As you know, we have relations with quite a few, and there are plans for other countries, and I hope this will bring about a new era in relations between Jews and Muslims in our region. It all starts with the vision laid out here, which is a vision of inclusiveness, an amazing vision of inclusiveness,” Herzog said.

Among the participants in the meeting were Rabbi Levi Duchman, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary who has been working in Dubai since 2014; Rabbi Elie Abadie, a senior community rabbi; and Jewish Agency representative Sarah Benchimol.

The gathering was originally scheduled for 6 p.m. Israel time, but started more than an hour late, as Herzog was invited by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to a personal meeting at the prince’s private palace. The previously unscheduled meeting took place after a productive, two-hour diplomatic meeting.

First Lady Herzog held a parallel meeting with Sheikha Alyazia bint Saif Al Nahyan at the same time.

Community could reach 5,000 people in five years

Herzog is the first Israeli president to visit the UAE and see the growing Jewish community firsthand. Before the September 2020 Abraham Accords, only around 250 Jews lived in the UAE. Today, according to Abadie, that number has doubled.

“Many French, British, Canadian, American and Israeli Jews have set up homes here and many are setting up businesses here,” Abadie told JNS. He estimated that in the next three to five years, there will be as many as 5,000 Jews living in the UAE.

Moreover, since the peace treaty, an estimated 200,000 Jews have toured the country.

“The Jewish community [in the UAE] is one of the safest, if not the safest, in the world,” Abadie contended.

He said that Jews in Europe, the United States and South Africa are attacked on a near-daily basis just for being Jewish.

“We do not have that here,” Abadie said. “The UAE is absolutely, without a doubt, safer than the United States for Jews… We know that the government is protecting us, as it is all the citizens and residents of this country.”

‘You want to pinch yourself to see if it is reality’

The leaders told Herzog about the services that the community is now striving to provide, such as kashrut services and synagogues. In addition, they said they are looking to establish a Jewish day school, mikveh, kosher bakery and pizza shop “in due time.”

“With God’s help, may you continue to go from strength to strength in building the institutions of the community, the education system, and of course synagogues and other institutions that every community has,” Herzog said. “Good luck to all of you.”

Abadie said the Jewish presence in the country is celebrated daily. Sometimes people salute him on the street, stop to say “shalom” or tell him how happy they are that the Jews are in the UAE.

But while he feels how special it is to live there on a daily basis, “when we have the president of the State of Israel received with such a beautiful welcome and the Israeli national anthem is played in the palace, and you see all the Israeli flags flying around the palace and the airport next to UAE flag—you want to pinch yourself to see if it is reality, and it is reality.”