Jewish life in the Gulf will increase in 5780

This has all set the stage for a historic year in terms of growing Jewish life in the Gulf.

VISITORS ARE seen at the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum. (photo credit: REUTERS)
VISITORS ARE seen at the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the Jewish community observes the High Holy Days, a time for introspection and self-examination – let us celebrate one of the great successes of the just completed year 5779 – the blossoming of Jewish life in the Gulf as part of an overall positive trajectory of Israel-Gulf relations. This past year, we’ve seen tremendous strides made, and even more exciting are the developments planned for the coming year.
Gulf leaders are very optimistic about the opportunities that will present themselves once they have diplomatic relations with Israel. There are four main reasons I hear from them about their desire to move this process forward. 
First and foremost is Iran. Both Israel and the Gulf are facing the common threat of Iran. 
Second are the economic benefits. 
The third reason would be getting closer to the US administration. The Gulf realizes that by coming closer to Israel, its political reality will be in concert with the objectives of the US administration. 
The fourth reason is that there is a genuine interest from Gulf leaders in bringing together Muslims and Jews, and they know that the way to get close to Jews is by having diplomatic relations with Israel.
This past year we saw historic visits from Israeli officials to the Gulf including: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Oman; Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev’s visit to Abu Dhabi where “Hatikvah” was played for the first time in an Arab Gulf state; Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz’s trip to Oman; Economy Minister Eli Cohen’s upcoming visit to Bahrain; and Communications Minister Ayoub Kara speaking at the International Telecommunication Union Plenipotentiary Conference in Dubai. 
This has all set the stage for a historic year in terms of growing Jewish life in the Gulf.
Bahrain is home to the only indigenous Jewish community in the Gulf. In December, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa appointed me to be a special adviser to him to help build and grow Jewish life in the kingdom. We’ve been working on a number of initiatives, and during the White House’s Peace to Prosperity workshop in June, its local synagogue held a minyan – a quorum of 10 men for prayer – for the first time. The videos went viral, but to be there in person was truly a remarkable experience. As we – diplomats, rabbis, businessmen and reporters – circled the podium and sang “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The people of Israel live”) – the words spoke truer than ever before because Jewish life in the Gulf is thriving. 
HISTORY WAS made at the Peace to Prosperity workshop as it was the first time that Israeli media were allowed into the kingdom. The excitement from the global Jewish community and even the secular media community was palpable. This was a further example of thawing relations between the two. I recall sitting with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa and asking him if he would consider giving an interview to one of the Israeli journalists who I had just met with. He immediately said he would and that I should bring him over. 
During that historic interview, he shared: “Israel is part of the heritage of this whole region, historically. So, the Jewish people have a place amongst us.” Over the last year, Sheikh Khalifa applauded Israel for cleaning out the tunnels in the North, and he also tweeted his support for Australia for recognizing west Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. 
Qatar is hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022, and last December, I announced with my dear friend Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary-general of the 2022 World Cup, that we will be bringing kosher food to the games in order to accommodate Jewish guests. Hassan has also reiterated that they will be welcoming Israelis to the games. I’ll be heading to Qatar in the coming months to work on additional initiatives for the Jewish visitors who will be attending the games. The Qataris’ genuine concern that Jews and Israelis should feel comfortable visiting their country and attending the games is something that should be appreciated and celebrated. 
The United Arab Emirates is home to a growing Jewish community. The synagogue in Dubai has hosted countless Jews over the last decade who visited for business and pleasure. In January, during Pope Francis’s historic visit to the Gulf, the Emirates published a book about religions in the UAE and, for the first time, acknowledged their growing Jewish community. 
UAE’s Minister of Religion Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan told me personally how proud he is of this community and that it is growing. Weeks later, the first kosher catering company in the UAE started – opening up even more opportunity for Jewish travelers and tourism. I would be remiss if I didn’t share that immediately following the massacre at the Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh last October, the first call I received after the conclusion of Shabbat was from Sheikh Nahyan, who called to express his condolences. 
We’ve seen unprecedented moves in terms of growing Jewish life in the Gulf this year as part of an overall positive trajectory of Israel-Gulf relations, but the opportunities and plans for the coming year are even more exciting. There is a genuine and authentic desire among Gulf leaders to continue to build Jewish life in the Gulf – and we’re working together on many projects to make this dream into a reality.
The writer is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. He is the special adviser to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and works closely with the royal families of the Gulf on interfaith initiatives, specifically related to Jewish opportunities in the Gulf.