The UAE Peace Accord: Lessons for the Orthodox

Is there an Orthodox angle to the historic normalizing of relations between the UAE and Israel? Several, actually.

It will take quite some time before all the details emerge as to how the agreement came to be crafted. It is silly to think that because Sunnis in the Gulf hate Shiite Iran more than they hated Israel, that one day they simply decided to put the past behind them and called Jerusalem to request an alliance. The real story is complex, and it involved many actors outside of the Israeli government. Some of the main players were colleagues at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and a very good friend in the American evangelical community. A good place to start to get an idea (if you can read between the lines) is this article by my boss and colleague Rabbi Abraham Cooper.

Let me help with navigating the white space in that article. The picture that should be emerging as you read it is of a number of “best practices” that led to the deal. The first is seeing an opportunity when it arises, and seizing it. Another is patience. The first stirrings began years ago. Those who saw smidgeons of change in the Arab world contented themselves on slow, plodding progress. They were wise enough not to push too hard or too fast. תפסת מרובה לא תפסת was a working principle. It takes insight, responsibility, and restraint to do that – virtues too often lacking in the political world. The path was not linear. Those who worked on this had to be sensitive to the needs of the other parties, e.g. when those parties seemed to be experiencing some pushback in their own circles, our folks laid low for a while. Understanding the needs of your partner-to-be is essential. Being able to deliver them is the mark of real ability and leadership. None of the preceding would have worked without cultivating genuine warm personal relationships.

The particular affinity for people of faith for each other has to be recognized. Some of the protagonists in this story may be moderates, but they see themselves as religious. When other conditions are right, there is a chemistry between people of strong faith, even when those faiths compete. This has huge potential impact on the policy of the US Orthodox community, which should wake up to the realization that it has the ability to make headway with groups in the US that will not be reached as effectively by non-Orthodox Jews.

It took far more than some smart Jews, backed by the clout of a 400,000 member-family organization with decades of experience as an advocate for global human rights, to shepherd this agreement. It took some smart allies, backed by the clout of a religious community of about 800 million.

This was not the first time that evangelicals made a difference. Earlier this week, President Trump said quite openly, “We moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem. That’s for the evangelicals. You know, it’s amazing with that: The evangelicals are more excited about that than Jewish people. That’s right, it’s incredible.”

We in the Orthodox community who have watched with pain and anguish the cavernous gap that has opened in the last decade between traditional Jews and all others know that it is all too credible. Some of us have worked assiduously to build friendships with evangelicals, to let them know about Jews who don’t sneer at their values even while we must reject their theology.

That was a factor in the UAE agreement as well, which likely could not have succeeded without strong support – and years of quiet pushing behind the scenes – from the evangelical community, as the word is now getting out.

In all the years of Cross-Currents, I do not believe that I have ever written a piece to toot the horn of the organization which employs me. I hope that you will believe me that this essay is not an exception. While I am proud of the role we played, that is not why I am writing. I am not writing to speak with pride about my years-long friendship with one of the two evangelical leaders mentioned in the article linked in the last paragraph – a super-mensch named Johnnie Moore, who sees the Bible as the Word of G-d and delights in hearing Jewish insights about it. (Even sitting for a morning seder in the Mir Yeshiva – but that is a whole, other story.) My goal is to make some points about what evangelicals want in Israel, and how their intentions have so often been mischaracterized.

I understand the concerns within our community about a religion that inflicted so much pain and suffering on us for close to two thousand years. I get that. I understand the absolute revulsion we have for missionary activity directed at Jews, whether out in the open, or even more so by subterfuge. Especially in Israel. I get all of that, too. Speaking within our community, all I try to do is tease apart different threads in what I believe is a changed Christian world, and to show that it is not all a single fabric. The motivation of many who will disagree with me comes from a good place, even as I disagree about their assessment.

Do understand, however, that outside the traditional community, the reasoning just stated is not the basis of non-Orthodox rejection of evangelicals. That rejection has far more to do with abortions, LGBT issues, and contempt for strong religious beliefs and those who hold them. These lead them to give a wide berth to evangelical support, and impute all sorts of intentions to them, many of them downright silly – and certainly uninformed. The non-Orthodox community has argued for many years that evangelicals back a political agenda that is dangerous for Israel. They are looking to bring Armageddon closer; peace is the furthest goal from their minds. They will not tolerate Israel compromising an inch of Biblical Israel; they are more extreme than those contemptable obstacles to peace – the settlers. Therefore, their support for Israel does more harm than good.

That is the standard take, the customary wisdom about evangelicals. And the myth has just been exploded. As much as they stood behind the annexation they thought was a few breaths away, the evangelical players acted like responsible diplomats. They traded one goal for what they saw as a more important one: a concrete step towards peace, hopefully the first of more to come. They were thrilled at the prospect of more security for the Jewish State, rather than an End of Time outbreak of a religious war.

This was not supposed to happen. The mainline churches (like the Lutherans, the Presbyterians, etc. and certainly the over-the-top haters like the Quakers and Mennonites) tell themselves that their primary concern is peace. Openly siding with the Palestinians, moving always to punish Israel or reduce US military aid to the Jewish State or support Kairos or BDS, turning a blind eye to both terrorism and the institutionalized corruption of the PA that steals the money they throw at it – all this they believe serves the cause of peace, while the evangelicals prop up the apartheid state that is its greatest obstacle.

Surprise. It didn’t happen that way. Decades of countless overtures, resolutions, fact-finding missions have produced diddly-squat for peace and for the Palestinians. Their policies have been as effective as trying to ward off Covid-19 in a crowded room by wearing a clove of garlic around the neck. Even if these churches would see their error (and they won’t), they cannot serve as honest brokers in a region that now shows itself to be in need of them. They are too compromised to assume that role for at least a generation.

Evangelicals, however, can.

Who would have thought? At least in our community we should understand what has been demonstrated.

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15 Responses

  1. Tal S. Benschar says:

    We should realize that, historically, the attitudes of different groups change over time. In the Middle Ages, the Muslim world was, in general, far more tolerant of Jews and Jewish communities than the Christian world, although there were exceptions on both sides. In the modern world, this reversed itself.

    Now, in the West, we are facing a post-Christian, largely secular world, whereas the Muslim world still remains traditionally religious.

    And, of course, politics is always changing. I have little doubt that the threat of Iran is a big factor in the Arab world’s rethinking of its stance to Israel.

    No reason not to be friendly towards those who are friendly, as long as we maintain the proper boundaries.

  2. lacosta says:

    it is interesting to see comments at rabbi cooper’s article [which ends with a remark that palestians better get on the peace train while it is still doable ]. the tenor of them is that SWC should be paying attention to palestinian human rights and ending apartheid. ultimately , we could have peace with ALL the arab nations , but not at home in ‘palestine’ —because their minimum demand [elimination of jew hegemony on the land ] , would be far beyond the max the jewish state would be willing to surrender….

  3. mb says:

    And God said to Abraham(Cooper), lech lecha, leave your land etc. and go somewhere else, and Abraham(Cooper) did! And look what happened!
    Wonderful education, thanks, much.

  4. dr. bill says:

    In addition to some orthodox “orthodoxies” being reaffirmed, two liberal “orthodoxies” were further discredited. First, (exaggerated) Palestinian rights must be addressed prior to any positive progress on Israel’s acceptance in the Arab world. Second, Trump and his biased, inexperienced, and hopelessly naïve team have no chance of success where the experienced diplomats from “Foggy Bottom” have been singularly unsuccessful.

    • Bob Miller says:

      Actually, many of these experienced diplomats of the State Department wanted no solution Israel could live with and were more sympathetic to the Arabs.

  5. Raymond says:

    I am actually disappointed if it is true that the Evangelical Christians are perfectly happy with the recent peace deal with the United Arab Emirates. Of course any civilized human being wants peace in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world, but it should not come at the price of giving away the Biblical Heartland of Israel. Israel should have annexed Judea & Sumeria decades ago, but from what I understand, not only did they not do so when there was the greatest chance of doing so, namely with the victory of the Six Day War, but they actively encouraged the so-called Palestinians to remain in the region rather than having them flee to neighboring countries as they had expected to do. In any case, the whole equation of Land for Peace is an absurd one, borne from centuries of oppression, putting our people in a position that considers it a victory when those who hate us do not murder us. A equation much more worthy of respect is President Reagan’s notion of Peace through Strength. Let there by peace not based on the unreliable promises of the Arab world written on worthless pieces of paper, but rather because Israel is so strong militarily that their hostile neighbors would not dare to go to war with them.

    And as for what our response should be to Christian Zionists, I am reminded of another expression from President Reagan, namely “Trust, but verify.” Applied to this situation, we Jews have so few friends in the world, that we should cultivate the ones we do have, every chance we get, no matter where that support comes from. And yet, we should never let our guard down, never fully trust the non-Jewish world. In the case of the Evangelicals, their ulterior motivation is often to convert us, and yet I have long maintained that I would rather have a Christian come at me with their New Testament, than a worshiper of Allah come at me with a suicide bomb. Organizations like Jews for Judaism can arm us intellectually to handle any Christian theology thrown at us, while defending ourselves against suicide bombs is a whole lot more difficult and dangerous.

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    We also see that the Arab world is realizing that Israel is an ally against Iran and its goals of hegemony and state exported terror in the Middle East. Don’t be surprised if other long time opponents of Israel also recognize Israel. FWIW, Israel already has IIRC flyover rights in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the Arab countries are clearly far less willing to bankroll the PA or Hamas ( Hezbollah being bankrolled by Iran) or even think of actively supporting their goals let alone even think of militarily support the redentist goals of the PA and Hamas, and their useful idiots around the world who support BDS

  7. Pete Bloss says:

    Thank you, dear friend, for dispelling the myth about evangelicals. We stand with Orthodox Jews and others who support Israel and seek lasting peace between it and its neighbors. For us (most, at least) it has nothing to do with end-of-times scenarios or “conversion” of Jews. None I know espouse such beliefs. Indeed, it is about shared core moral beliefs anchored in G-d given Biblical truths. Sadly main-line Protestantism has lost sight of those truths. We evangelicals have more in common with the Orthodox Jewish community than with main-line Protestant churches. Many of us fought those battles with you regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. We were repulsed by the favoritism shown to Palestinian causes at the expense of the sovereignty and safety of Israel and its citizens. We did not understand and still do not understand the main-line refusal to see Hamas and Hezbollah as the terrorists they are. Eventually, we turned our backs on those denominations, as have you, leaving them to shrink into insignificance, becoming mere reflection of contemporary culture. Leaving them to the consequences of their unfaithfulness to G-d.

    So, as an Evangelical Christian, I am pleased to see the ground-breaking agreement with UAE. It makes the Middle East and the world a better and safer place. I pray that the diplomatic work with Sudan will bear fruit. The more neighbors of Israel that follow suit, the safer the world will be from Iran and its proxies. I have recently seen Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, up close and personal in southern Lebanon while setting up a medical clinic to serve Syrian refugees. There is no way to make peace with Hezbollah. They hate Christians as much as Jews, considering local Christians nothing more than useful idiots. Because of their intransigence, Lebanon is now descending into a failed third world state.

    • If only I had a way to have some of my Orthodox co-religionists meet you and people like you! Especially here in Israel. I wouldn’t have to write articles like this one. (I’ll never forget the time I visited you in Gulfport, Mississippi which of course does not exactly have an Orthodox synagogue, and had to do the morning prayer in your living room….)

    • Raymond says:

      Peter Bloss, I have no idea who you are, but let me just say that you are one incredible human being. Even with the prospect of Evangelical Christians trying to convert us as the price we Jews have to pay for the strong Evangelical Christian support for Israel, they are still my second favorite group of people (second only to traditional Jews), but with you removing even that impediment, well, for whatever my views on these things are worth, I now consider you to be a Righteous Gentile, which is the highest compliment that we Jews can bestow on any given non-Jew. You remind me of John Hagee, a man I have long admired, both for his steadfast support for Israel, as well as for his policy opposing any attempt to convert my Jewish people to his religion. And now I find myself wanting to praise you to the skies, but my words fail me, and so at this point I will simply say, Thank You.

  8. Ori Pomerantz says:

    For people who understand Hebrew, this is commentary by Mordechai Keidar whose life work is investigating the Arab world:

  9. Bob Miller says:

    There are many groups in the world whose ultimate game plans differ significantly from ours. However, when we and some of them are under simultaneous attack by the same enemies, or when we have some common “peacetime” goals, it can pay to work together. We can do this with eyes open, without glossing over our differences.

    Domestically, we see a direct assault on autonomous religious and private education, backed by some ideologically driven governments. That, too, calls for cooperation with others under the same threat. Another such threat is governmental manipulation of COVID-19 concern to shut down religious gatherings even as certain political gatherings and even riots are encouraged.

    • Raymond says:

      I am not usually a conspiracy theorist, but I do think that the whole government shutdown thing is designed to attack our President at his greatest strength, namely our economy, for the purpose of defeating him in November. I have also come to realize that even that would not be enough to satisfy the Radical Left, that their ultimate goal is nothing short of destroying America altogether. So many decades ago when I was introduced by one of my Rabbi teachers to the works of Viktor Frankl, I was warned through Frankl’s books about the very real danger of nihilism. Back then, I was too naive for such an idea to be little more than theoretical to my young mind, nor did I have a clear picture of what he was talking about. Now, all these many decades later, I see his warnings coming to fruition, and it absolutely terrifies me. G-d should have mercy on all of us by seeing to it that the modern day Cyrus remains in our White House.

  10. Shades of Gray says:

    “I’ll never forget the time I visited you in Gulfport, Mississippi which of course does not exactly have an Orthodox synagogue, and had to do the morning prayer in your living room”

    Unless R. Adlerstein visited Mississippi more than once, this would have been during the rebuilding following Hurricane Katrina. See “Rabbi On a Hot Mississippi Roof”(CC, 1/12/06), which is a title that is hard to forget.

    • Pete Bloss says:

      Indeed, it was my great honor to host Yitzchok for his visit in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. He handles a nail gun quite well! We will always be grateful for the support given to our interfaith relief and recovery work. He and SWC helped facilitate and coordinate hundreds of Jewish college student volunteers who helped us in the work of getting roofs back on homes in poor, ethnically diverse neighborhoods.

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