Mizrahi, Sephardi traditions open doors to Middle East peace

“Mizrahi Jews need to take a more active role in peace building because we have a similar culture and our stories show we are indigenous to this region and land.”

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum meets with UAE businessman Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum meets with UAE businessman Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum has been a key figure behind the rapidly growing ties between Israel and the Gulf, particularly the United Arab Emirates. A co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council, she has been hosting delegations and speaking about the peace agreement known as the Abraham Accords, every day. She and a small group of others in the UAE, Israel and the region have also been speaking about how the Mizrahi and Sephardi heritage of Jews is a key to peace building and erecting bridges throughout the region.  
She is part of a group of public figures and donors who want to establish a museum about Jews from Arab and Muslim lands. Ashley Perry has been campaigning for years for more recognition and commemoration of the heritage of Jews from the region. He is now CEO of the Heritage Center for Middle East and North Africa Jewry. “The idea is a center chronicling the history of Mizrahi Jewry,” he explained.
One thing he pointed to is that in wake of the Abraham Accords, it is important to note that the “majority of Israelis come from the Middle East, and their grandparents spoke Arabic and knew the mentality and culture, and they should be a natural bridge for peace and reconciliation.” 
Perry helped draft the law for commemorating this community and has worked for government support that led to recommending building a museum and heritage center. 
This heritage can be a cultural basis that Jews can and should use to “be a bridge to understanding of the wider Arab world and rebuilding Abraham’s tent is part of that,” he said. The concept of Abraham’s tent is that Arabs, Muslims and Jews are all cousins or brothers with the same heritage.
Today, Hassan-Nahoum and Perry are involved in work with Gulf partners in the UAE to further that work with colleagues there who are involved in history and heritage of the region and who support peace. 
The joint work comes around November 30, which is Jewish Refugees Day, commemorating the 850,000 Jews who fled the Middle East when Israel was created.
“Jews were forced to flee en mass,” the State of Israel Twitter account noted.
MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh said that the day helped to remind us of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were ethnically cleansed. “We must acknowledge and empower these voices,” she wrote.

The work on partnering with like-minded people in the UAE is a welcome new initiative, said Hassan-Nahoum. “It’s a great opportunity and I think to look at a joint future for the region, it’s important to celebrate the commonalities of our past, and we have a lot of years of good relations with our Muslim cousins, ultimately I think it is coming full circle, and we need to learn how to find the things that unite us.” Mizrahi heritage a key to that. Her family came from Morocco and has origins in Spain. Her husband’s family is from Iraq. “My philosophy is that Mizrahi Jews need to take a more active role in peace building because we have a similar culture and our stories show we are indigenous to this region and land,” she said.  
The supporters of this initiative of bridge building with Mizrahi heritage as a cornerstone hope to see the first fruits of their work soon with a unique event in the UAE that will bring together Arabs and Jews with Mizrahi Jewish heritage as a part of the bridge to peace.