Kenneth Jacobson
Kenneth Jacobson

The Abraham Accords and the panic of Israel’s delegitimizers

As we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the historic UAE-Israel normalization agreement, several things stand out.

First, unlike Israel’s vital peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, this one actually translated into the beginnings of normal relations between the two countries and two peoples.  Whether it is economic arrangements, tourism, diplomatic exchanges, or Jewish communal activity, so much about the agreement has manifested itself in a completely different relationship on the ground. ​ And there is an eagerness by the leaders of the UAE to work toward greater tolerance and respect between Muslims and Jews​, something that we at ADL also prioritize.

Second, the agreement stood the test of a serious crisis with the war against Hamas in MayAnti-Israel propaganda was at a fever pitch in parts of the Middle East, in Europe and the United States. Yet, there was never the slightest inkling that the UAE leadership was reconsidering its relationship with the Jewish state.

Third, what has been so striking was how the UAE decision broke a barrier by opening up a new way of thinking about Israel from other Arab governments. And so, within months of the first normalization agreement, others, of varying degrees, followed — Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Less talked about, however, is the impact of these new relationships in the region on those who were hostile to Israel and to the very idea of a Jewish state outside the Middle East. There is a lot of discussion about the level of extreme rhetoric and behavior toward Israel and ​also assaults against Jews during the recent war, even beyond what took place in previous wars.

Factors that were seen as contributing to this new level of extremism included the partisan and polarized environments in many democratic countries, the role of social media in generating extremism, and the ​oversimplified projections ​by some observers of a world of oppressors versus oppressed, with Israel falling into the ​purported oppressor category.

The new ingredient in the mix, however, is the normalization agreements. Even before the war in Gaza in May there were signs that the anti-Israel forces were in a state of panic about the rapidly changing Middle East environment. After all, if you were in the delegitimization camp – claiming that Israel is a racist, colonialist state that is all about oppressing Palestinians – what do you do now that the Arab world itself was comfortable enough with the Jewish state to establish full relations? Where does that leave the delegitimizers?   

Clearly, with the momentum working against them, with reports that Saudi Arabia was considering an agreement with Israel, the answer was to double down on the anti-Israel rhetoric and policies​and to also bash those Arab states that were brave enough to take this historic leap for peace. The war in Gaza came at the perfect time for the anti-Israel forces. It provided the opportunity to hype up the anti-Israel initiatives and to try to stop the momentum in the region toward Israel’s broad acceptance.

Let’s be clear: we are not referring to supporters of the Palestinians per se. Indeed, the UAE and the other Arab countries insist that their support for Palestinian rights and Palestinian self-determination ​as a desirable objective remains as strong as ever. Rather we are referring to those who label Israel as a colonial intruder and who reject any legitimacy for the Jewish state or Jewish connection to the land.

And so, we witnessed an ​even greater explosion of anti-Israel and antisemitic activity​ this May, even though the 2014 war in Gaza was a much more extended ​and deadly conflict than this one.

Negating the progress toward normal relations with Israel, which presented itself as the greatest threat to the effort to isolate the Jewish state as the international community had done with apartheid South Africa, proved to be the extra incentive and catalyst for the most vicious anti-Israel activity that we have seen in years. And of course, we must counter and rebut the Israel haters and seek as many allies as possible to stand with us in this effort.

On a policy level, we ​Jewish Americans urge our government ​to do everything it can to help strengthen already existing ties between Israel and these four Arab countries and to expand the circle of Arab and other governments that are willing to normalize relations with Israel. Ultimately, that is the best response to the delegitimizers and will demonstrate that the future lies with the peacemakers rather than with haters and antisemites.

About the Author
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.