A leader of the Jewish community in the United Arab Emirates said on Friday that he expects crowds of Israelis to visit the Gulf state once the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE goes into effect.
Solly Wolf said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 that he and the community were not surprised by the historic Thursday announcement.
“We were expecting it already. It was only a matter of time,” Wolf said. “We know that in the last few years there have been a lot of connections between the UAE and Israel under the table.”
He predicted that the UAE’s relatively cheap prices could be a major draw for Israeli visitors.
“I’m sure that a lot of Israelis are going to come here,” he said in the English-language interview. “I saw yesterday on television, a five star hotel, it’s cheaper than going to Eilat. So of course a lot of people will come here.”
“They are more than welcome to come here, without any fear, because it’s a very safe place. It’s one of the safest places in the world, for families, for children for everybody,” said Wolf, who said he had lived in the country for 20 years.
He also said that property was cheaper than in Israel, claiming that a two-bedroom apartment near the beach would cost around NIS 1.5 million ($440,000).
Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced their agreement Thursday afternoon. They “agreed to the full normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE,” they said in a joint statement with the US that was released by US President Donald Trump.
The UAE-Israel deal marks the third such agreement the Jewish state has struck with an Arab country after Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994).
Israeli and UAE delegations will meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security and the establishment of reciprocal embassies, their statement said. In exchange for the accord, Israel agreed to suspend its planned annexation of parts of the West Bank.
The UAE’s small Jewish community welcomed the agreement on Thursday after it was announced, praising the Arab Gulf state for its pluralism and religious tolerance.
“Among other things, this will allow Israelis to visit the UAE and share our daily experience of… tolerance and pluralism that typifies the UAE,” the Jewish Council of the Emirates, an umbrella group established by Jews living in the country, said in a statement.
“I am so moved by the many messages of hope that I have received from Emirati friends of our community on hearing this news,” said the group’s president, Ross Kriel.
Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the non-resident chief rabbi of the organization, praised UAE leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed for his “vision of tolerance, synergy and the fusion of past and future.”
Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich said Thursday night she’d spoken with Wolf.
“We were both very excited and moved by this great opportunity and agreed to establish a mutually fruitful relationship between the Jewish community and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs,” she said.
In recent years, the UAE has made great efforts to portray itself as a tolerant country welcoming all religions, including Judaism.
President Khalifa bin-Zayed al-Nahyan declared 2019 to be the “The Year of Tolerance” in the UAE. In this context, the country announced the building of a massive interfaith compound in Abu Dhabi that will also include a synagogue. The so-called Abrahamic Family House is slated to open in 2022.
A Jewish community has been operating in Dubai for a decade, initially with tacit support but more recently with overt backing from the local authorities, and is currently in the process of officially becoming a licensed religious community.
Estimates of how many Jews currently live in the UAE range from the low hundreds to 1,500. There are three different congregations — two Orthodox and one egalitarian — and one kosher catering business in the country, called “Elli’s Kosher Kitchen,” which has also garnered a lot of attention, including UAE Culture Minister Noura al-Kaabi hailing it as a new chapter in “Gulf food history.”