History of the Jews in the United Arab Emirates

The modern history of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) does not reveal a current population of Jews. However, over the millennia of Jewish history in the Middle East and in the History of the Jews in the Arabian Peninsula, there are recorded meetings with Jewish communities in areas that are today in the geographic territories of the United Arab Emirates.

Early history

Map of the route.[1]

A historical journey to visit far-flung Jewish communities was undertaken by Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela from 1165 to 1173 that crossed and tracked some of the areas that are today in the United Arab Emirates, which had also been under the control of the Persians. His trek began as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.[2] He may have hoped to settle there, but there is controversy about the reasons for his travels. It has been suggested he may have had a commercial motive as well as a religious one. On the other hand, he may have intended to catalogue the Jewish communities on the route to the Holy Land so as to provide a guide to where hospitality may have been found for Jews travelling to the Holy Land.[3] He took the "long road" stopping frequently, meeting people, visiting places, describing occupations and giving a demographic count of Jews in every town and country.

One of the known towns that Benjamin of Tudela reported as having a Jewish community was in a place called "Kis",[4] located in the area of Ras al-Khaimah, presently located within the area of one the emirates of the United Arab Emirates. Modern Ras al-Khaimah covers an area of 656 square miles (1700 km²) in the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula.

Attitudes to Jews in recent history

A Jewish Telegraphic Agency report in 1999 stated that: "A British university has banned Jewish authors from its courses at its campus in the United Arab Emirates. The University of Lincolnshire and Humberside has confirmed that books by Jews, as well as those that mention Jews in their bibliographies, are banned by its affiliate in the Persian Gulf state. In addition, the British Council, a state-run organization designed to promote British cultural achievements abroad, also conceded that it acquiesces in the censorship of works by Jews to accommodate "local political, religious or moral publishing laws."[5]

In July 2000, the Harvard Divinity School accepted $2.5 million from the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. In 2002, the Zayed Center published a report on the Holocaust that said Zionists - not Nazis - "were the people who killed the Jews in Europe." This led to an uproar that the money be returned and that the center be closed.[6] And as reported by the United States Department of State: "In August, the Government closed the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-up, a think tank that published and distributed literature, sponsored lectures, and operated a website. The center published some books with anti-Jewish themes such as "The Zionist Movement and its Animosity to Jews," and "Al Buraq Wall, Not Wailing Wall" [...] According to a statement from President Zayed's office, the Government closed the center because its activities "starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance" advocated by the president." [7] In 2007, there were "some anti-Semitic or religiously intolerant editorials, op-eds and editorial cartoons in the English and Arabic-language electronic and print media. The Arabic-language press, including government subsidized and quasi-governmental newspapers such as Al-Ittihad, Al-Bayan, and Al-Khaleej, carried editorial cartoons depicting negative images of Jews; Al-Bayan carried religiously intolerant articles as well." As an example, they cite Al-Ittihad, which "carried a cartoon of "the Zionist Lobby" who was depicted as a stereotypical Jew with a hooked nose and wearing a yarmulke;" an op-ed from Al-Bayan in 2006, which poses the question as to whether Zionists were a "part of humanity" and compared Israelis to Nazis; and a cartoon in Al-Ittihad, "in which a stereotypically depicted Jew was standing astride the globe, a reference to the long-standing anti-Semitic conspiracy that Jews control the world." All of the examples stated were described by the U.S. State Department as antisemitic.[8]

In 2010, Pravda.ru accused the UAE of adopting "Third Reich policies against Jews"[9] when, in March 1 of that year, Dubai police chief Dhahi Khalfan Tamim allegedly said "that anyone who looks or sounds like a citizen of Israel will be blocked from entering the country, even if a suspected individual produces a passport of a different state". Pravda.ru responded by asking the rhetorical question: "Will Emirates liken itself to the Third Reich and use rulers and protractors to measure the shape of the nose, earlaps and the skull structure? If it does, the UAE will lose all of its friends in the West."[10][11]

New diplomatic openings to the US, Israel and Jews

There have been some new openings by the United Arab Emirates as reported in the media. In an article in USA Today Arabs try outreach to Israel, U.S. Jews, 2007, it is reported that: "Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, are making some of their most public overtures ever to Israel and American Jews in an effort to undercut Iran's growing influence, contain violence in Iraq and Lebanon and push for a Palestinian solution. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have stepped up contacts with Israel and pro-Israel Jewish groups in the USA. The outreach has the Bush administration's blessing: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said six Arab States of the Persian Gulf and Egypt, Jordan and Israel are a new alignment of moderates to oppose extremists backed by Iran and Syria. She has said an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would weaken militants such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Saudi and Arab states' contacts with Israelis and American Jews go back more than a decade but have never been so public. Arab countries have treated Israel as a pariah since it gained independence in 1948. Most Arab countries ban travel to Israel, investment there and other commercial ties with the Jewish state and routinely refer to it as the "Zionist entity". Among the other recent Arab-Jewish contacts: Saudi national security adviser Bandar bin Sultan met privately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jordan in September, said Daniel Ayalon, Israel's former ambassador to Washington. He said it was the highest-level Saudi-Israeli meeting he'd ever heard of.[12]

See also


  1. "PDF: The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela trans. Nathan Marcus Adler. 1907: Includes map of route (p. 2) and commentary." (PDF). teachittome.com.
  2. Shatzmiller, Joseph. "Jews, Pilgrimage, and the Christian Cult of Saints: Benjamin of Tudela and His Contemporaries." After Rome's Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History, p. 338. University of Toronto Press: Toronto, 1998.
  3. Shatzmiller, Joseph. "Jews, Pilgrimage, and the Christian Cult of Saints: Benjamin of Tudela and His Contemporaries." After Rome's Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History, p. 347. University of Toronto Press: Toronto, 1998.
  4. Josephine Bacon. Consultant editor: Martin Gilbert. "From Abraham to the Destruction of the Second Temple": The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilization, pp. 30-31. Quantum Books. London, 2004.
  5. "British school bans books by Jews from its campus in the Persian Gulf". highbeam.com (JTA).
  6. "Harvard Must Give Back Tainted Money". Boston Globe.
  7. "United Arab Emirates: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices". US Dept. of State.
  8. "United Arab Emirates: United Arab Emirates". US Dept. of State.
  9. See History of the Jews in Germany#Jews under the Nazis (1933–45)
  10. Balmasov, Sergey; Trukhachev, Vadim (4 March 2010). "United Arab Emirates to Follow Third Reich Policies against Jews". Pravda.ru. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  11. "Арабские Эмираты вводят фейс-контроль для израильтян". Pravda.ru (in Russian). 3 March 2010.
  12. Slavin, Barbara (February 12, 2007). "Arabs try outreach to Israel, U.S. Jews". USA Today. Retrieved May 4, 2010.

History and travels of Benjamin of Tudela

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