BASEL – The Emirati founder of the Crossroads of Civilization Museum became the first prominent Muslim Arab personality to participate at an event of the World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland.
Close to 2,000 participants in Basel were surprised to learn that among the key speakers at the event was a Muslim who not only founded the first Holocaust memorial gallery in the Muslim world but also promotes Judaism in the UAE.
During the celebrations of the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, Ahmed Obaid Almansoori revealed a handwritten, signed letter from Theodor Herzl.
In the authenticated letter, signed by Herzl in 1897, he wrote that he could not accept a prospective applicant to the organization that he had just established. Evidence indicates that this was a refusal to accept the unidentified applicant to the Zionist Organization, days before the First Zionist Congress.
“I respect Zionism,” Almansoori, a former member of the UAE Federal National Council, told The Jerusalem Post. Asked if he considered himself a Zionist, Almansoori said he wasn’t “part of any group,” yet he was “trying to connect.”
“I have great respect for the State of Israel, for our Jewish friends, brothers, sisters and cousins. We are brothers before being cousins actually,” he said with a smile. “We need to stop antisemitism, anti-Zionism and the delegitimization of Israel. People should move forward and try to build bridges.”
"We need to stop antisemitism, anti-Zionism and the delegitimization of Israel. People should move forward and try to build bridges."Ahmed Obaid Almansoori
According to Almansoori, there is “lots of common ground between the Jews and Arabs and between the UAE and Israel. We are both modernized yet maintain our identity.
His Crossroads of Civilization museum started as a private collection in Almansoori’s home in 2006. It went public in 2011 at the Emirati government’s request, which identified the museum’s potential.
What's in the Crossroads of Civilization museum?
Located at the Royal House on the main road in the historical area of Dubai, the award-winning museum has housed historic Jewish documents, letters and coins since its establishment long before the signing of the Abraham Accords peace treaties.
Almansoori has dedicated a significant portion of his museum to display the rich history of the Jewish people in the Middle East, highlighting that Jews are an indigenous and important part of the region.
The Holocaust Memorial Gallery at the museum was established on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021, following the signing of the Abraham Accords. It has evolved into an international hub for Holocaust commemoration events and ceremonies; a center for advancing peace, tolerance and Jewish-Arab solidarity in the Middle East; and an important meeting place for the Emirati Jewish community.
Almansoori told the conference he acquired the Herzl letter in 2016 in Vienna. It has since been on display in his Dubai museum as a part of a collection of historical Jewish documents and items presented to the large audiences visiting the museum each year.
At the turn of the century, Herzl was extremely active in seeking to partner with influential figures who could help him advance his Zionist vision.
On stage, Almansoori stated, “It is of utmost importance that the young generations of the Middle East will learn about Judaism, Zionism and Israel. This will strengthen peace, not only between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, but between the entire region. It is important that we live side-by-side with mutual respect for one another, understanding the history and values of each nation and its people.”
"It is of utmost importance that the young generations of the Middle East will learn about Judaism, Zionism and Israel. This will strengthen peace."Ahmed Obaid Almansoori
How did the audience react?
The audience was visibly moved by the participation of a senior Arab figure from the UAE participating in a Zionist event.
“The unique work of Almansoori in commemorating the Holocaust in the UAE is a worthy example for the Arab world on the importance of changing perceptions and discussion on the Holocaust and the importance of the State of Israel,” WZO chairman Yaakov Hagoel said while standing next to Almansoori.
“Herzl never dreamed that the day would come that a brave Arab leader would participate in a Zionist Congress together with thousands of Jews from all over the world whose goal is strengthening and development of the independent and sovereign State of Israel”.
Nonetheless, Herzl imagined a positive response to his vision from an Arab leader in his utopian novel Altneuland.
Almansoori also headed the delegation from the UAE together with South African-Israeli philanthropist and businessman Eitan Neishlos a few months ago.
“I think it’s been important to be here because any issues that cause a misunderstanding or misinterpretation, I think should be opened up and discussed,” he said of his participation in the WZO event and in the March of the Living.
Asked if he expects negative feedback for his participation in the event and in promoting Zionism, Almansoori said, “There might be some negative media reports, but I’m hoping for the best. Everything that promotes change will have resistance from certain people.”