‘Abraham Accords prompted shift in political thought in the Gulf’
November 30, 2021
"Dubai has become much safer than Paris or Berlin," says Dr. Edy Cohen of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, adding Gulf states' interest in Israel and the Jews growing rapidly.
The signs of the extensive influence that the Abraham Accords have had on the wider discourse can already be seen. "I'll tell you about two events the likes of which we haven't seen in at least 50-60 years, and they took place recently, in a natural way," says Dr. Edy Cohen, a senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.
The two cases of Jews who were invited to Lebanon and Syria, as will be described below, represents, according to Cohen, nothing short of a profound shift in the state of mind among Arabs of the region in relation to Jews and their approach to Israel.
On Monday, Nov. 1, Lebanese Ambassador to France Rami Adwan hosted dozens of Jews of Lebanese descent at his home in Paris. According to Cohen, who was born in Beirut, this wasn't a coincidence. "This was an unusual, even exceptional meeting, where the ambassador praised the Lebanese Jewish community, using language that hasn't been heard in recent years towards Jews from the mouth of a senior Lebanese figure. He spoke about coexistence, about freedom of worship, and about the responsibility of the state to protect all its citizens.
"One of the invitees was the historian Nagi Zeidan, who arrived specially from Brazil. Zaidan is known for the book that he wrote about Lebanese Jewry, and he is currently finishing writing his second book. In addition, the ambassador provided the Jewish guests with kosher food that was ordered especially for them, and it was clear to everyone there that a gathering like this couldn't have taken place without higher approval."
The second event was a visit by a delegation of dozens of Syrian Jews who live in the United States to Damascus. "They were received pleasantly by the authorities, there is footage of them sitting on a long table in a restaurant," Cohen says, "and they returned to their homes safely. For those who don't remember, the Jews escaped Syria in the 1990s because of antisemitism, whereas now [Syrian President] Bashar Assad shows signs of courting the Jews."
These two events, seemingly coincidental, are, according to Cohen, a result of the deep impact the Abraham Accords have had on the Arab outlook and the consciousness in the region regarding Jews and Judaism. "It's clear that this didn't just happen randomly. After all, the historical experience shows that the Jews escaped from these countries, and therefore what we envision is no less than inconceivable," Cohen explains.
"It's not taking place in a vacuum," he emphasizes, "this is a fundamental change. On this issue, I see a direct connection to the spirit of the Abraham Accords. I have no doubt that the agreements provided Jews and Judaism with a type of legitimacy in the region, in the sense that the Arabs are pointing out: 'The Jews live – and they were with us!' From a broader perspective, all of these are expressions of the Arab states' courting of the Jews: we saw it with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, and today we are experiencing the first signs of this in the Middle East."
Cohen talks about his visit one month ago to Dubai: "I felt completely safe. I saw Jews wearing kippot in the Dubai malls. Without fear. Dubai has become far safer than Paris or Berlin."
In this regard, the Middle East expert goes into detail and says: "Now everyone is interested in the Jews, even if they don't know so much about how to welcome them. Take, for example, Portugal – why do they want to give passports for free to Jews? By doing so they are broadcasting a message of 'We will bring the Jews.' They're not Arabs, of course, but the Arabs have also begun to see the Jews in this way."
'Things are changing'
Cohen has a substantial social media presence with over 450,000 followers on Twitter, most of them from the Arab world. Just recently his Twitter account was chosen as the most influential in Arabic to an Arab audience, in an analysis that checked the entire online interaction with the Arab world.
"I breathe the Arab space, I speak with many figures," he says. "Recently I was interviewed for a Russian channel, most of whose consumers were Iranians and Syrians. When I review the responses I receive, alongside the anticipated criticism, there is also a lot of support and statements of 'The Jew is right.'"
"I definitely see the change. Just four years ago, when I started to communicate and to tweet on a large scale, people were afraid to give a like or a retweet. Look what's happening now – the situation has changed completely. The Abraham Accords have led to a change of consciousness in the political thought of the nations of the region. The biggest change of all is the one that touches on attitudes towards the Jews.
"The ones who led this spirit in the Arab countries and made it reverberate are the Emiratis, with the Abraham Accords. I am extremely realistic and I don't want to exaggerate, but in this regard one can say that things are changing during this period, and positive spirits are coming towards us."