Jewish envoy to UAE gets opportunity to embrace culture, religion

Canada’s Ambassador Marcy Grossman celebrates accords that let Jews come out of shadows.

Canadian Ambassador to the UAE Marcy Grossman delivers her credentials to Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in 2018. (photo credit: DUBAI GOVERNMENT MEDIA OFFICE)
Canadian Ambassador to the UAE Marcy Grossman delivers her credentials to Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in 2018.
DUBAI – From gender parity to religious tolerance, Canadian Ambassador to the UAE Marcy Grossman has a busy agenda.
The Jewish civil servant arrived in Dubai as the consul general in 2018. Within a year she was promoted to ambassador and moved to the embassy in Abu Dhabi, the nation’s capital. The timing could not have been more auspicious.
“I don’t believe in chance, but I believe we are all in the right place at the right time, so I am sure that’s really why I’m here,” she said.
Grossman has been a public servant for some 30 years, spending the majority of her career in the US, including Miami and Denver. She returned to Ottawa in 2016 to work on Canada’s presence in the upcoming Dubai Expo, which was slated for 2020 but has been postponed to next year.
Some people were surprised by the decision to send Grossman to the UAE, a Muslim country that might be uncomfortable for Jews, but she felt drawn to it.
 “I felt Dubai was calling me,” she said, “as if it would be the pinnacle of my career, even if at the time, I wasn’t sure what exactly that was.”
Grossman’s first posting in the Middle East has been a whirlwind. As one of seven female ambassadors in the UAE, alongside around 100 men, she feels she has much to do for Canada as a woman and a person of faith.
“Two months into my arrival in Dubai, there was the story in Bloomberg about the secret synagogue coming out of the shadows,” she said. “So not only did I know I was a female diplomat in a male-dominated environment, I had the opportunity to embrace my culture and religion, which was very exciting.”
It was a liberating time, Grossman said, adding: “It’s always a responsibility to be authentic to who you are, and I’ve always had to manage my Jewishness.”
But now, the country where many Jews once hid their religious identity has given them the opportunity to publicly embrace their faith.
“With my name, everyone pretty much knew I was Jewish, and I didn’t hide it,” she said. “But of course I will be a little more open now.”
In 2019, Abu Dhabi announced it would be home to the Abrahamic Family House, comprising a synagogue, church and mosque, the pope made his first historic visit to the region, and the UAE was enveloped in a mantra of peace and tolerance.
“By the time the Abraham Accords were announced, I had seen there was already a lot of relationship-building going on, especially through my involvement in the Jewish community,” Grossman said. “I knew Israel had a presence at IRENA [the International Renewable Energy Agency], that Israeli business people were coming, and at the government level there were connections. So I always expected that this was going to lead to something, although I was shocked like everyone else when it was announced. I think it was a very close-held decision.”
More than the decision, she has been most surprised by the speed of progress, including high-level research collaboration in artificial intelligence and healthcare, foreign investment, plans for 28 flights a week between the two countries and a rapid influx of Jewish and Israeli tourists and businesspeople.
As Canada already has a large Jewish population and a close relationship with Israel, Grossman said the trilateral relationship she can now help facilitate feels close to her heart.
But one cause even closer to her heart is that of women’s empowerment and being an ambassador for Canada’s feminist foreign policy. The Abraham Accords brought that home even stronger.
“When we saw the delegations for the Abraham Accords, there were a lot of men,” she said. “There are still gaps in many places – military, politics, diplomacy, in every field. I lead from the prism of being a woman in a man’s world.”
Though the UAE’s cabinet and government offices have far better gender parity than any other country in the Gulf, when it comes to diplomacy, Grossman is vastly outnumbered. She has female Canadian counterparts heading missions in Amman, Beirut, Washington, London and Paris, but this is not so representative of other nations.
“I’m a bit of a novelty here,” she said with a smile.
While ministers such as Reem al-Hashimi and Noura al-Kaabi have made a strong statement on the international political stage for the UAE in terms of the importance they place on gender equality, there is still much to be done for gender parity around the world, Grossman said.
“We’ve seen that boards with women are more successful in business, governments with more women have policies which better reflect the interests of women, and the same in diplomacy,” she said. “There is more opportunity to get diverse opinions, to promote inclusion and represent the other 50% of voices.”
Most of all, it is critical for peace, Grossman said.
“The more women involved in peacemaking, when they’re at the decision-making table, the more peace there is,” she said.
Involving more women in major global accords such as the Abraham Accords is critical for peace to endure, Grossman said.
“It’s with great personal pride that I’m here at this time,” she said. “I feel the Abraham Accords are a bold step in diplomatic efforts to reaffirm peace in the whole region.”