September 16, 2022 — Abu Dhabi
An American Jewish Committee delegation of 80 people from across the United States were joined last evening by Emirati government officials, members of the diplomatic corps, business leaders, and members of the local Jewish community to celebrate the second anniversary of the Abraham Accords and the official opening earlier this year of AJC Abu Dhabi: The Sidney Lerner Center for Arab-Jewish Understanding.
The festive dinner at the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy (AGDA) capped a series of intensive meetings over seven days with government officials, business professionals, high-ranking diplomats, academicians, journalists, and Muslim and Jewish community leaders in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Manama.
AJC CEO David Harris and AGDA Director General Nickolay Mladenov engaged in a conversation before an audience of 200 about the Abraham Accords, expanding relations between the UAE and Israel, current strategic challenges facing the Arabian Gulf region, and the necessity of transnational cooperation against global threats.
During their conversation Harris and Mladenov announced a new AJC-AGDA joint undertaking to promote dialogue, education and diplomacy for the next generation of Emirati, Israeli and American leaders. Programs that will commence next month and run through May 2023 will bring together, both in person and virtually, young diplomats and policy experts from the UAE, Israel and the United States for discussions about free trade, young leadership, conflict, innovation and food security.
The evening’s keynote speaker was Dr. Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, chairman of the Defense, Interior and Foreign Affairs Committee of the UAE Federal National Council, chairman of the International Steering Board of Hedayah, the International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism, and founder and chairman of the World Council of Muslim Communities. Dr. Al Nuaimi expressed his hopes for, and confidence in, the success of the Abraham Accords, and he thanked AJC for its long and positive engagement in the region.
“We wouldn’t be able to sign the Abraham Accords without the commitment, vision, and wisdom of AJC leadership, especially my friends David Harris, Jason Isaacson, and others,” Dr. Al Nuaimi said. “For decades, they’ve worked with us, creating trust, respect, and a vision we have worked on together. We had the courage to change the region. Without the support of our American friends, we wouldn’t be able to move forward and sign the Abraham Accords.”
U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Sean Murphy and Israeli Deputy Chief of Mission Ohad Horsandi welcomed the AJC delegation and invited guests, and spoke of their governments’ commitment to advancing regional peace and prosperity. Ambassadors of countries in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia also were in attendance. Introducing the evening’s program was Amb. (ret.) Marc Sievers, Director of AJC Abu Dhabi.
AGDA is the principal training center for Emiratis pursuing a career in diplomacy and continuing education for UAE diplomats. AJC and AGDA launched last year an education cooperation, featuring a series of webinars, with the aim of engaging the next generation of American, Israeli, and Emirati leaders on issues of common concern.
In marking the Abraham Accords anniversary, AJC concluded the dinner with a tribute to Israeli Ambassador Bruce Kashdan for his pivotal role in nurturing groundbreaking ties between Israel and Arab countries over the past three decades. Isaacson, AJC’s Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer, presented to Kashdan the organization’s prestigious Madeline and Bruce Ramer Award for Diplomatic Excellence “in recognition of his skillful and creative diplomacy to advance the cause of peace and Israel’s full integration in the community of nations.”
“Ambassador Bruce Kashdan has been for me and my AJC colleagues a trusted source of insight and counsel, and for Israel a unique and invaluable diplomatic asset,” said Isaacson, who first met Kashdan after the 1991 Madrid Middle East peace conference. “I was introduced to Bruce as the creative, charming, disarming, indefatigable American-born Israeli who had assumed the portfolio of roving diplomat to countries with which Israel did not have relations, and with a particular and intense focus on the Arab world.”
Isaacson continued: “For some 30 years, as AJC sought to deepen understanding and trust between Arabs and Jews, and as we sought to open doors between Arab states and Israel, Bruce Kashdan was our model, our guide, and our inspiration. Bruce blazed trails, and continues to blaze trails, in the Arabian Gulf, in North Africa as well as sub-Saharan Africa, in the Indo-Pacific region – frankly, wherever an opportunity for new or expanded relations has presented itself.”
Kashdan, who immigrated to Israel from the U.S. in 1966, and later joined Israel’s foreign ministry, was appointed Israel’s liaison to the Gulf states after the Madrid Conference 31 years ago, and began establishing contacts with business people and government officials there. In the absence of diplomatic relations with any of the Arabian Gulf countries, he made connections that advanced economic activity between Israel and Gulf states. Only after the Abraham Accords were signed was Kashdan’s secret diplomacy revealed.
“I am honored and humbled by this extraordinary gesture by AJC,” Kashdan said. He praised AJC for supporting “this peacemaking journey” and for establishing an office in Abu Dhabi.
“I am a strong believer in economic diplomacy,” Kashdan declared. In 1992, Israelis were not permitted to visit Gulf states, but by 2011 “we had 1,200 companies recruited, trained and already have reached agreements with counterpart companies in the Gulf,” he noted.
“Relations between nations need to be earned and the leaderships need to be assured that something good, and visible to their population, will result from the new connections,” Kashdan said. “Thankfully, I have had behind me an army of 4,000 high-tech companies in our country, almost all with some level of international operations and anxious to open up new potential partnerships.”
In the course of their weeklong program, members of the AJC delegation met with senior government officials in the UAE and Bahrain, continuing a 25-year-plus tradition of extensive engagement with governments and civil society across the Arab world to promote enhanced understanding and cooperation – a mission that will be carried forward on a continuous basis by AJC Abu Dhabi: The Sidney Lerner Center for Arab-Jewish Understanding.