Rabbi predicts ‘historic times’ ahead for Jews, Muslims in Gulf

The religious leader and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding predicts that diplomatic relations between one or two Gulf states and Israel could be established by as soon as the end of this year. (AN Photo/Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 05 February 2019

Rabbi predicts ‘historic times’ ahead for Jews, Muslims in Gulf

  • The religious leader and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding predicts that diplomatic relations between one or two Gulf states and Israel could be established by as soon as the end of this year
  • There are five interfaith centers involving countries from the GCC, with the Saudi center located in Vienna, Austria

ABU DHABI: The Middle East is on the brink of embarking on an “historic” new era of cooperation between Jews and Muslims, according to “Rabbi to the Gulf” Marc Schneier.
The religious leader and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding predicts that diplomatic relations between one or two Gulf states and Israel could be established by as soon as the end of this year. 
Schneier told Arab News that stronger relations between the ruling families of the Arabian Gulf and Israel, as well as common economic interests, made the need for increased understanding between Jewish and Muslim communities vital in the face of the “existentialist threat” each faced from Iranian expansion.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Global Conference of Human Fraternity, being held in Abu Dhabi, and coinciding with the visit of Pope Francis to the UAE, Schneier said these were “hopeful times” for the whole region.
“I have nothing against the Iranian people and there is a hope that they will come to their senses at this point. But the Iranian regime is a threat to the Gulf and to Israel,” the rabbi said.
He added that he and his organization had nothing against Shiite Muslims, and that he enjoyed good personal relations with Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan, the only official Shiite state in the world other than Iran.
But Schneier expects even closer relations to be formed between Arab Gulf states and Israel. “I would be so bold as to predict that by the end of 2019 we will see the establishment of diplomatic relations between one or two Gulf states and Israel.”
Another reason for improving bonds between Jews and Muslims, he said, was the desire by Arab leaders to strengthen ties with the US under President Donald Trump. 
Schneier said he believed Arab leaders were still “concerned” about the issue of Palestine, and that Gulf involvement could help bring about a peaceful solution in the Palestine-Israel confrontation.   
He did not rule out a visit by the pope to Saudi Arabia sometime in the future. “I can foresee it because Pope Francis has a very pure agenda. He also needs to build relations between Christians and Muslims. The Kingdom is heading in the right direction by being more progressive and recognizing a common faith.”
Schneier’s New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding was established in 1989 as a vehicle to soothe tensions between African Americans and Jews in the US. In 2004 Schneier said he felt it was “mission accomplished” in that respect and decided to approach the problem of relations between Jews and Muslims. “It is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century to bridge the gulf between them,” he said.
In 2007 he was asked by the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to get involved in an initiative for interfaith dialogue that took place under Saudi auspices in Madrid, Spain.
There are five interfaith centers involving countries from the GCC, with the Saudi center located in Vienna, Austria. Others are in the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.
“I like to be able to visit Vienna. It is a multicultural city, and that is where my family came from before they moved to the US, after surviving the Jewish Holocaust in Europe,” he added.
Last Saturday Schneider attended a sabbath service at a Jewish synagogue in Dubai, which for some years has been the center for Jewish worship in the emirate, serving the religious needs of Jewish business visitors to the UAE.  


Homemade bomb kills Israeli teen, wounds two others in West Bank

Updated 52 min 34 sec ago

Homemade bomb kills Israeli teen, wounds two others in West Bank

  • Israeli security forces deployed throughout the area where the attack took place near the settlement of Dolev, northwest of Ramallah, to search for suspects
  • Palestinians sporadically clash with Israeli settlers and security forces in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967, but bomb blasts have been rare in recent years

JERUSALEM: A rare homemade bomb attack in the occupied West Bank killed an Israeli teen and seriously wounded her father and brother Friday as they visited a spring near a Jewish settlement, officials said.
Israeli security forces deployed throughout the area where the attack took place near the settlement of Dolev, northwest of Ramallah, to search for suspects.
Israeli medics had earlier reported that a 17-year-old had been critically wounded in the attack and officials later announced her death, naming her as Rina Shnerb from the central Israeli city of Lod.
Medics from the Magen David Adom rescue service initially gave the ages of the two wounded as 46 and 20, before amending to 21 in the latter case.
The army said the three victims were a father and his two children.
The two wounded were taken by helicopter to hospital, the army said.
“Three civilians who were in a nearby spring were injured in an IED (improvised explosive device) blast,” it said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “harsh terrorist attack” and sent condolences to the family, while pledging to continue building settlements.
“The security arms are in pursuit after the abhorrent terrorists,” he said in a statement.
“We will apprehend them. The long arm of Israel reaches all those who seek our lives and will settle accounts with them.”
United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov condemned the “shocking, heinous” attack, saying there was nothing heroic in Shnerb’s “murder,” calling it a “despicable, cowardly act.”
“Terror must be unequivocally condemned by ALL,” Mladenov wrote on Twitter.
Israeli forces meanwhile entered the Palestinian village of Beitunia, south of the spring, to take footage from surveillance cameras.
An AFP reporter said Palestinians clashed there with Israeli soldiers, but no casualties were reported.
Chief of the army, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi visited the site of the attack to understand the incident and oversee the efforts to locate the perpetrators, which he was “confident” would happen quickly, the military said.
Later in the day, Shnerb was buried in her hometown Lod, with thousands participating in the funeral.
Shnerb’s father Eitan, who was wounded and couldn’t attend the funeral, relayed through an uncle his request that people focus on “our strength and love and the wonderful nation and our good land” and avoid sinking into “weakness and anger and strife.”
“We should be worthy of the great sacrifice we offered today,” Eitan Shnerb was cited by the uncle as saying.
In a speech on Friday, Ismail Haniya, the leader of the Islamist Hamas movement which rules Gaza, praised the attack but did not claim responsibility for it.
He referred to a recent clash between Israeli police and Palestinian worshippers at the highly sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and sought to draw a link between the two incidents.
AFP reporters said thousands of Gazans participated in weekly Friday protests at the Israeli border fence, with some youths using slingshots to launch stones at the barrier and a few approaching it.
The health ministry in the enclave said over 122 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli forces, dozens of them hit by live fire.
Palestinians sporadically clash with Israeli settlers and security forces in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967, but bomb blasts have been rare in recent years.
Palestinian attacks have mostly involved guns, knives and car ramming.
There have been concerns about a possible increase in violence in the run up to Israel’s September 17 general election.
A week ago, a Palestinian carried out a car-ramming attack in the West Bank, wounding two Israelis before being shot dead.
On August 8, an off-duty Israeli soldier’s body was found with multiple stab wounds. Two Palestinian suspects were later arrested.
Late Thursday, a Palestinian threw grenades at Israeli soldiers while attempting to cross the Gaza border and was shot by Israeli forces, leaving him wounded, the army and the Gaza health ministry said.
Gaza militants have also launched six missiles at Israel in the past week; the most recent were on Wednesday.
In retaliation, the Israeli army said it struck “a number of military targets in a Hamas naval facility in the northern Gaza Strip.”