The UAE’s unprecedented role in helping reunite Jewish family is symbolic

The UAE reunited one family of 15 members in Abu Dhabi after the government helped fly some from Yemen and London. A second family, the Salem family, was reunited after 15 years apart.

 Rabbi Elie Abadie (L) with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Elie Abadie (L) with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On January 11, Rabbi Elie Abadie of the Jewish Council of the Emirates in the United Arab Emirates thanked the government for helping to reunite two Jewish families after 21 years. He put up a message in Arabic, Hebrew and English. The Emirates News Agency released new details about the UAE’s fast response to the needs of the Jewish family.  
The article details how the UAE responded to a request from a Jewish family and, within 15 days, had rescued “some of its members, enabling them to have their long-awaited reunion after over 21 years.”
The news agency went to speak to the family several days after the original announcement. “Two days after the family’s reunion in the UAE, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) visited its members to learn the details of their 21-year story, after being reunited by the values of peace, compassion, coexistence and tolerance in the UAE.”
They met with Soliman Habib, who is 75 years old. "We used to live in Saada, but my family could not live in Yemen anymore because of fear and anxiety, so they moved to London. Only me, my wife and my son stayed in Yemen,” said Habib.
Other members of the family spoke about their experience and thanked the government of the UAE for its assistance. These included Shamma Soliman, a 73 year old and Loza Habib, a 58 year old. "My son, Isaac, told me that I was going to meet my father, mother and brother. I did not believe him, even after travelling from London to the UAE for the reunion, and even now I find it hard to believe,” said Loza. There were children and grandchildren in the group. A photo at WAM shows eleven group members.

ACCORDING TO reports several days ago, the UAE reunited one family of 15 members in Abu Dhabi after the government helped fly some from Yemen and London.  A second family, the Salem family, was reunited after 15 years apart.
The reports of the help for the families have been widely distributed in the Emirates and also reported in Saudi Arabia and around the Gulf. Publications from Khaleej Times to Gulf News have reported on it. This is symbolic and historic. The Yemenite Jewish community is one of the ancient and important Jewish communities in the region. It has struggled over the years, no longer living in Yemen, after most of its members moved to Israel or were forced to flee.
The UAE has, in recent years, taken extraordinary steps to illustrate that it is a country of tolerance for different religions. Helping Jewish families from the region unite is a symbol of that. After decades in the Middle East where Jews were often persecuted or the subject of conspiracies and negative propaganda by governments, this represents a historic shift. For many who are optimistic about the Abraham Accords, it shows how new bridges are being built and the history of Jews as part of the mosaic of communities in the Middle East is being revived.
Jews lived and thrived in many cities in the Middle East for thousands of years. The scholar Maimonides lived in Fustat near Cairo and would travel home from serving the sultan to meet with people who awaited him to ask for assistance. Maimonides wrote to the Jews of Yemen in 1173. Today many of these historic sites, like the Ben Ezra synagogue in what was then Fustat but is now Cairo, have been rehabilitated, but there is little community left.
The UAE’s unique approach is not just to speak about coexistence – or its plans for an Abraham House that will have a mosque, synagogue and church – but to actively work with the Jewish community and help Jews in need.  

HELP FOR Yemenite Jews in particular is important. First of all, they are a historic community near the Gulf. As the Gulf countries make peace with Israel, the Jewish experience in places like Yemen and Bahrain is important. There is a small Jewish community in Bahrain that dates from the 19th century. There are now Jewish communities in the UAE.
In 2016, Israel said it had airlifted 19 of the last Yemenite Jews to Israel. This was considered the end of Yemenite Aliyah or immigration to Israel directly from Yemen.  However, at the time, Al-Arabiya noted that some 40 Jews had not left Yemen.  
Yemen has been a victim of civil war in recent years as the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, have taken over swaths of the country. Saudi Arabia led an intervention in Yemen with the UAE in 2015 to support the government against the Houthis. The official Houthi slogan is “death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews.”
The Houthis are an officially antisemitic group whose slogan appears genocidal. Yet they have seen at least one op-ed by their antisemitic leader who “curses the Jews” published at the Washington Post. While Western media host opeds by those who are openly antisemitic and whose movement’s official slogan is “curse the Jews,” media in the UAE do not host antisemitism. Today the Emirates is pushing back against hate speech.

IN WESTERN universities, antisemitic conspiracy theories often find a welcome mat. For instance, Oxford, Cambridge and Columbia all hosted the openly antisemitic former leader of Malaysia who told audiences that Jews are “hook-nosed” and who justified Holocaust denial. These universities and media that often host antisemitism usually do it by pretending they are just giving a platform to a “leader” like the head of the Houthis or Malaysia’s former president, Mahathir Mohammed. They appear to never invite Malaysian politicians who are not antisemitic, however.
There are many politicians in Malaysia who have not pushed antisemitic conspiracy theories, and they did not get invites to Oxford, Cambridge and Columbia, leading Western academic institutions. This makes it appear that the real reason Mahathir was invited was to enable his antisemitism and show him that leading Western institutions embrace hatred of Jews.  
The way Western governments, media and academic institutions today push antisemitism is not through using locals, but rather wrapping it in the guise of “hosting foreign leaders” or “community leaders.” In many Western countries, the number of attacks on Jews, including physical assaults and swastikas spray-painted on cemeteries, is measured in the thousands.
The UAE’s different and tolerant approach – hosting Jews and including positive messages of tolerance – illustrates an embrace for diversity. This is similar to the approach of most countries in Asia where Jews are never targeted and where antisemitism does not get a red carpet at leading universities.
Meanwhile, Western countries that claim to be against hate speech have the highest levels of attacks on Jews. Western governments and their diplomats in Yemen over the years did not play a public role in helping the Jewish community or opposing antisemitism by groups like the Houthis.
The Emirates has shown unprecedented leadership in the region in this regard. Its leadership is also part of a global trend in many non-Western countries, where anti-Jewish attacks are less than in Western countries. The UAE and its approach represent a potentially historic global shift.