History of the Jews in the United Arab Emirates

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

There is a small Jewish community in United Arab Emirates (UAE), which worships freely in a dedicated synagogue in Dubai and has done since 2008. Visitors are also welcome to attend and pray there.[1] Its existence is supported by the UAE, with the appointment of a Minister for Tolerance in 2016[2] leading to the creation of the National Tolerance Programme.[3]

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. As of 2019 and according to Rabbi Marc Schneier, an estimate of about 150 families to 3,000 Jews live and worship freely in the UAE.

Early history[edit]

Map of the route.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] 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",[7] located in Ras al-Khaimah, one of the seven emirates of the UAE. Modern Ras Al Khaimah covers an area of 656 square miles (1700 km²) in the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula.

Modern history[edit]

Since the formation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1971, a small Jewish community grew and lived in the UAE for many years. The community includes Jews who call the United Arab Emirates home, as well a Jews who moved to the UAE because they are involved in business and commerce in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There is a synagogue in Dubai since 2008 and its existence is supported by the government of the United Arab Emirates. In 2019, the United Arab Emirates government announced the year of tolerance, officially recognizing the existence of Jews in the UAE. According to Rabbi Marc Schneier, an estimate of about 150 families to 3,000 Jews live in the UAE.[8] A small synagogue exists in Dubai, and a Jewish benediction is also recited to the president of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan as well a to the rest of the rulers of the UAE during Shabbat.[9]

Attitudes toward Jews[edit]

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."[10]

In July 2000, the Harvard Divinity School accepted $2.5 million from the founder 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.[11] In August, the UAE government closed the Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow-up, which is a think tank that published and distributed literature, sponsored lectures, and operated a website. The center published some books with 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."[12] 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.[13]

In February 2019 and as part of the United Arab Emirates's national tolerance program, the Ministry of Tolerance officially recognized the UAE's local Jewish population and, according to Rabbi Marc Schneier, were in talks of establishing a proper synagogue, kosher foods and even a mikveh.[8]

Israel-United Arab Emirates relations[edit]

According to USA Today, Arab states are increasing relations with 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. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would weaken militants such as Hamas and Hezbollah. According to the article, Arab states' contacts with Israelis and American Jews go back more than a decade but have never been public.[14]

As the UAE does not officially recognize Israel, Israeli passport-holders cannot legally enter the UAE. Restrictions were tightened against the entry of Israeli citizens following Mahbouh's assassination in Dubai, blamed on Israeli intelligence.[15] However, there are Israelis with dual citizenship who live, visit and work in the UAE as citizens of other countries.[16] Some Israeli companies conduct business in the UAE indirectly through third parties.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Herschlag, Miriam. "For the first time, Dubai's Jewish community steps hesitantly out of the shadows". www.timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
  2. ^ "Tolerance - The Official Portal of the UAE Government". www.government.ae. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
  3. ^ "News". uaecabinet.ae. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
  4. ^ "PDF: The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela trans. Nathan Marcus Adler. 1907: Includes map of route (p. 2) and commentary" (PDF). teachittome.com.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ a b "The Jews of Dubai are on the map". ynetnews.com. 5 February 2019.
  9. ^ "As the Gulf Warms Up to Israel, a Synagogue Grows in Dubai". Bloomberg. 5 December 2018.
  10. ^ "British school bans books by Jews from its campus in the Persian Gulf". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  11. ^ "Harvard Must Give Back Tainted Money". Boston Globe.
  12. ^ "United Arab Emirates: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices". US Dept. of State.
  13. ^ "United Arab Emirates: United Arab Emirates". US Dept. of State.
  14. ^ Slavin, Barbara (February 12, 2007). "Arabs try outreach to Israel, U.S. Jews". USA Today. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  15. ^ "'Israelis No Longer Allowed in Dubai After Hamas Hit' - Israel News - Haaretz Israeli News Source". Haaretz.com. 1 March 2010. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
  16. ^ a b Friedman, Ron. "Israelis doing business in Dubai will wait out storm - Middle East - Jerusalem Post". Jpost.com. Retrieved 28 November 2015.

History and travels of Benjamin of Tudela[edit]