Jewish communities in six Gulf countries today announced the establishment of the region’s first communal organization. It’s the latest sign of improving relations between Israel and parts of the Arab world.
The Association of Gulf Jewish Communities is meant to serve Jewish populations in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
None of the countries have a large Jewish population. About 1,000 Jews live in the UAE; just a handful reside in countries like Oman and Qatar.
All the Jews living in the Gulf are expatriates, except for Bahrain, where there are about 50 native Bahraini Jews.
In an interview with VOA, Rabbi Elie Abadie, the chairman of the new Association, who lives in Dubai, could hardly contain his excitement.
“Would we have imagined something like this a year ago or even six months ago and of course the answer is no. This is a historic significance. I always say we are at the crossroad of history in that entire region if not the world because something like that would not have been even a thought process just a few months ago,” he said.
Rabbi Abadie said the newly created Jewish court, called the Beth Din of Arabia, will handle civil disputes, marriage and divorce, and inheritance issues. It will also run the Arabian Kosher certification agency which will help observant Jews throughout the Gulf get kosher food.
The new association comes in the wake of September’s Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE, and Israel and Bahrain. Several of the association’s members, including Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia still have no diplomatic relations with Israel.
But Rabbi Abadie said the governments in all these countries have been supportive of the council.
He now has a major job ahead of him.
“I’m so far the only rabbi in that region. I’m the rabbi of the entire association now and as a rabbi I will have to provide spiritual services to all the members – religious services, life cycle services, I already began doing it actually, from the moment I arrived in Dubai, also in Bahrain,” he said.
In Kuwait, there are about 20 Jews, most of them affiliated with the U.S. naval base there. Rafael, a businessman who did not want to give his last name, and represents Kuwait on the council, told VOA it’s already making a difference in Jewish life.
“It’s the first time I’ve been able to meet people in a similar situation to myself in other countries such as Qatar and Bahrain that I wasn’t able to meet previously. If you think about it, we’re islands of virtual Jewish communities like in Kuwait and we are being connected up, and that is good because you get to know the people, use the resources, help each other and it’s good for contacts as well,” said Rafael.
Meanwhile, UAE Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has sworn in his country’s first ambassador to the state of Israel, Mohammed Mahmoud al-Khajah.
In the months between the September Abraham accords and the shutdown of airports because of COVID-19 at the end of January, more than 50,000 Israelis visited the UAE.
Israelis hope Emiratis will start coming once flights resume later this month.