American Jewish organisation sets up Abu Dhabi office in first for Arab world

The Sidney Lerner Centre for Arab-Jewish Understanding will work to strengthen ties between Israel and Arab nations

Marc Sievers is the first director of the The Sidney Lerner Centre for Arab-Jewish Understanding.  Victor Besa / The National

An organisation which aims to promote greater understanding of the Jewish faith has opened an office in Abu Dhabi, its first in the Arab region.

The Sidney Lerner Centre for Arab-Jewish Understanding, in Abu Dhabi Global Market, will work to strengthen ties between Israel and Arab nations and build relations between Muslim and Jewish people.

The American Jewish Committee’s 13th global office opens after “decades of quiet engagement” between the group and Arab leaders across the region.

It is testament to the growth of UAE-Israeli ties since the signing of the landmark Abraham Accords in 2020, which normalised relations between the nations.

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We want to support both the Abraham Accords themselves and the spirit of seeking to expand that circle of peace
David Harris, chief executive of the American Jewish Committee

“With the Abu Dhabi office we now have 13 posts overseas,” said David Harris, the chief executive of the American Jewish Committee.

“I guess this is our bar mitzvah post. Traditionally Jewish boys have a ceremony at the age of 13. It’s meant to symbolise the transition from childhood to manhood.”

AJC was founded in 1906 with a dual mission – which continues today – to protect Jews wherever they are in danger, and extend and defend democratic values and respect for human dignity.

The global advocacy organisation’s Abu Dhabi branch has three overarching aims, Mr Harris said.

“We want to support both the Abraham Accords themselves and the spirit of seeking to expand that circle of peace. And the UAE is a very good place to explore opportunities, to not just deepen but widen them,” he said.

The organisation also aims to contribute to strengthening understanding in the US and the “revolution” that has taken place in terms of relationships in the region.

“Thirdly, we have set for ourselves a rather ambitious goal of trying to make the 21st century the century of flowering of Muslim-Jewish relations,” Mr Harris said.

“That will not happen overnight but it is occurring and wherever it is occurring it is very exciting to watch, mostly as members of both faith communities come to know each other and realise we have far more in common than we ever could have imagined.

“It has been that separation that has prevented people from seeing the commonalities.”

The AJC office will be led by Marc Sievers, its first director, a retired American foreign service officer who was US ambassador to Oman from 2016 to 2019.

He and his family loved it so much they decided to stay on in the country.

“Initially we started a consulting business as I retired and this came along and I saw the historic opportunity,” he said.

He heard about the office opening up, so contacted AJC to ask who would be running it.

“I got no answer. Several weeks later I received a message which said 'can we talk?'. It went from there. So I joined on June 1.

“The office is also a regional office. We hope to see what opportunities there are to expand the relationship of peace between Israel and countries in the Gulf.

“This week we were in Bahrain for two days. But this is our base, this is our home.”

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Updated: March 11, 2022, 3:30 AM
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