Courting Jews; the Latest Trend in Arab Politics
We, in the Middle East, are witnessing a historical momentum in the relationship between the Arabs and the Jews, in various fields of politics, security, geo-economics, and most importantly social connections. However, the euphoria created by the vibes of human love replacing decades of politically-motivated hatred, should not stop us from taking a deep dive into the actual reasons behind this massive change in attitude and mentality among the Arab elite and public, with the purpose to ensure its expansion across geographies and sustainability over time.
On January 20th, Egypt actively participated in the United Nations’ General Assembly sessions that led to the adoption of a resolution that condemns the practices of denial and distortion of the Holocaust, including on the internet social platforms. On behalf of the Arab Group, the Egyptian Ambassador conveyed the Arab consensus on the resolution, condemning the Holocaust as a crime of genocide, and stating that the “memory of such a black hole in history must be kept alive in the global consciousness so that it is never repeated.”
A few days later, official events marking the International Holocaust Remembrance Day were held in the most vibrant Arab capital cities of Cairo and Abu Dhabi. In Abu Dhabi, ministers and state officials participated in organizing and speaking at the event. In Cairo, the event was organized by the US Embassy and the Washington-based US Holocaust Memorial Museum, in a luxurious hotel at the banks of the Nile River.
Even more, in the latest round of the World Youth Forum, in January, a number of Israeli youths were invited. In early 2021, the Egyptian Ministry of Education approved a new school curriculum for primary and preparatory students, that explores the religious texts and common values of the three Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Jewish religious texts have not been taught in Egyptian schools, since the era of President Gamal Abdel Nasser who practiced an explicit ethnic discrimination against the Egyptian Jews.
Above all that, during the past two years, the Egyptian government renovated monumental worship houses from the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic eras, including the renovation of the 14th century Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria. Under Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood rule, synagogues used to be regularly targeted by terrorist attacks motivated by extremist religious and political rhetoric.
Such official actions and cordial attitudes, and the factors resulting from and leading to them, are firsts in the Middle East region. In the recent past, thinking of holding a Holocaust remembrance event in Cairo, was a dream, due to the huge challenge posed by the widely spread culture of anti-Semitism and holocaust denial.
Despite the forty-plus years old peace treaty between Egypt and Israel and the huge efforts exerted by the current political leaderships of both countries to create balanced relations as neighbors, there still some media outlets and politicians, especially from the defunct leftist / Nasserist movement, who take pride in voicing hate against Israel. Needless to mention, the wide range of political Islamist rhetoric and even non-politicized religious rhetoric that labels the Jews as existential enemies to the Muslims. However, the good news is that the change on the level of the political leadership is adequately echoed in Arab public attitudes towards Israel, but with variant degrees depending on regional geopolitical and geo-economic developments and their consequences on each country.
A survey by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, conducted in November 2020, showed that 25% of the Egyptian public supported normalizing ties with Israel. At that time, the ink of signing the Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was still wet. Egyptians, apparently motivated by jealousy, thought they need to be more proactive in warming ties with Israel, given the fact that Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, four decades before the Abraham Accords exist.
Nevertheless, the latest round of Gaza war, in May 2021, led to a sharp decline in Egyptians’ support to normalizing ties with Israel, to stop at 12%, in similar survey conducted in November 2021. Ironically, this particular episode of war between Israel and Hamas enhanced cooperation and understanding on the level of political and intelligence leaderships of Egypt and Israel, especially after the crucial role that Egypt played in controlling the scene and applying ceasefire. Meanwhile, around a quarter of Egyptians, in the 2021 survey, applauded the economic cooperation between Egypt and Israel, especially after Netanyahu left the Prime Minister’s position.
One main factor for the increasing show of love among Arabs towards Israel, is the fact that most the countries of the Middle East agree that Iran, and its widely-spread militia and proxies, are the biggest threat to national and regional security. In addition, the new geopolitical reality of the region, which has been polarizing since the eruption of the Arab Spring revolutions, a decade ago, and reached a peak point by the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, last year, pushed the Israel-Palestinian conflict to the back burner. Meanwhile, it made security and economic cooperation with Israel a necessity to keep the Middle East region in balance.
In conclusion, the growing trend of Arab peace with Israel is not the hard-to-reach dream of the region, anymore. It has become the only option available for preserving regional security and stability, in face of the threats arising at the eastern gates of the region, from Iran, Taliban, and the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists. To guarantee the sustainable growth of the peace trend, efforts should be exerted on a level deeper than the surface of state-to-state relations. Reaching the core of people-to people relations between Arabs and Jews remains a big challenge, despite the Abraham Accords and the dazzling series of governmental activities reflecting official acceptance of Israel and the Jews. In this regard, popular acceptance and culture change is what truly matters.
Also, read on The Levant