Diplomacy and democracy: NCJW President Dana Gershon in the Persian Gulf and Israel

Diplomacy and Democracy NCJW President Dana Gershon represents National Council of Jewish Women in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Israel

It is only since 2020 that Israel has had any level of diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Between this reality and the global pandemic of the last three years, a trip like the one I just concluded with to the Gulf and Israel is a a new opportunity.

I was proud to represent National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) this year on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’s (CoP) Pre-Mission to the UAE and Bahrain and their Leadership Mission to Israel, as well as at the Global Coalition for Israel Forum, which was run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. It was my honor to share NCJW’s perspective with this powerful group of Jewish communal organization presidents and CEOs — and with heads of state and other top political, governmental, and military officials in all three countries we visited. It was especially moving to hear from women leaders in the region, where the status of women continues to grow and evolve.

Other highlights of the trip included a visit with the US Naval Command in Bahrain, the opening of the “Abrahamic House” in Abu Dhabi — including the first synagogue built in the Arab world in over 100 years, exclusive sessions with the President of Israel and at the Knesset with lawmakers and important committees for the diaspora, and hearing from Israel’s thought leadership in the media, academics and beyond. The trip was rounded out with visits to museums and religious sites, some protesting in support of  Israeli democracy, and even running the 10K portion of the Tel Aviv Marathon.

Here’s a look at the trip!

Our trip began in the United Arab Emirates at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi — the largest mosque in the country.
Here we are with Sara Mohammad Falkanaz, one of the 20 female members of the 40 member UAE Federal National Council, the country’s parliamentary body. The American women with me are leaders of CoP member organizations.
After leaving the UAE, we traveled to Bahrain, where I had the opportunity to ask Lieutenant General Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, Minister of the Interior, about the status of women in the country.
Women are well represented in the multinational coordination of these three countries, as well as in the Bahraini workforce. The photo on the left is with Gali, an American Jewish special advisor to Admiral Cooper, Commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command. Gali’s role is to advise the Admiral on implementation of the Abraham Accords and cooperation between the US Navy and the Israel Defense Forces. On the right is Linda Jahani, Bahrain Economic Development Board Chief of Corporate Services.
Pictured here is the Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue, the first synagogue built in the Arab world in more than 100 years. The synagogue sits on a tri-faith property alongside a church and a mosque. All three houses of worship are the same size.
Dubai really is the city of the future! At the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center, we learned that more than 40% of the engineers are women who are a part of an incredible team responsible for launching multiple satellites and rovers to Mars and the Moon. One out of four of the UAE’s astronauts is a woman too! On the right is the Museum of the Future.
Israelis have been protesting for weeks now, attempting to save Israeli democracy from a judicial overhaul package, which threatens the fragile checks and balances of the Israeli governmental system.

As the Israeli government continues to stall on the several-years-old Kotel Agreement — a plan for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall — I am grateful to have joined a prayerful protest with Women at the Wall, featuring Israeli activist and former member of the Jerusalem city council, Anat Hoffman.

We were fortunate to witness Orly Erez-Likhovski, Israel Religious Action Center Director, argue the case in support of the Kotel Agreement at the Israel Supreme Court. At the time of writing, we are still awaiting a decision.
And finally, a celebratory shot when I finished the Tel Aviv 10k!

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