Weeks before Dubai expo, Israel still absent from event website

Israeli diplomats touted pavilion as key element of outreach to Arab world; organizers hint Jewish state has yet to submit relevant materials

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

The Expo 2020 Dubai list of countries on its website, with Israel conspicuously absent (screenshot)
The Expo 2020 Dubai list of countries on its website, with Israel conspicuously absent (screenshot)

Six weeks before the start of Expo 2020 Dubai, Israel’s pavilion still does not appear on the event’s official website.

On the face of it, it isn’t especially striking. Organizers said that 191 countries are participating, and only 95 appear on the list of pavilions as of Thursday.

But Israel, which signed a much-heralded normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates in September 2020, has been investing significant effort to publicize its pavilion at the world fair, and sees its participation as a key component of its outreach to the Arab world.

“The presence of the Israeli pavilion in Expo Dubai is a huge opportunity for us all. For the first time, we will be able to connect with millions of visitors from the Middle East and beyond,” said Israel Pavilion commissioner general Elazar Cohen in 2019.

When Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited the UAE in June, he stopped at the expo site to meet with the minister in charge of the event and to pose for photos in front of Israel’s pavilion.

Despite all the hype, Israel is still not listed on the website among the participating countries.

The expo staff hinted that it had not yet received all the necessary information about the Israeli pavilion.

Concept art showcasing the Israeli pavilion at the upcoming Expo 2020 in Dubai. (Screenshot)

“Expo 2020 Dubai will welcome 191 countries, and publishes information on each Country Pavilion upon the request of the country and provision of the relevant content about their pavilion,” the event’s media office told The Times of Israel.

The Foreign Ministry said it was working with the expo organizers to publicize the information on the Jewish state’s pavilion.

“Israel is grateful for the invitation to participate in the Expo Dubai, [which came] 18 months before the Abraham Accords,” the ministry told The Times of Israel in a statement.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) and Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz (C), listen to Elazar Cohen, commissioner of the Israel pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020, as he explains the pavilion, June 30, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

“In the context of our advance public relations efforts, the pavilion appears in all the media outlets in the UAE and in the Gulf. We are in touch with the organizers to gather the materials from the Israel Pavilion, and to place it in the virtual expo,” it said.

UAE-based outlets, including The National and Gulf News, covered Israel’s pavilion plans.

Israel announced it would participate in the expo in April 2019, before Jerusalem had official ties with Abu Dhabi. In September of that year, the Foreign Ministry posted a video giving viewers a sense of how the pavilion would look.

A sneak peek of the planned Israeli pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai

Next year, Israel will be taking part in Expo 2020 Dubai????????.The Israeli pavilion will showcase our vision of innovation & global cooperation for a better future.????Take a stroll along the path of innovation to see what ???????? is planning for Expo 2020 in Dubai:

Posted by Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday, September 16, 2019


The first part of the Abraham Accords, the historic cooperation agreements between Israel and several of its Arab neighbors, brokered in large part by the United States, turned one year old on Friday.

The UAE signed a treaty to normalize its relations with Israel for the first time on August 13, 2020, opening up collaboration on tourism, trade, technology sharing and more. Bahrain would soon follow suit, followed by Sudan and Morocco.

L-R: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan participate in the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House on September 15, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Israel’s spirit and culture

The Dubai Expo 2020 trade fair will gather nearly 200 countries vying for the attention of a projected 25 million visitors over nearly six months.

The world fair, a milestone for Dubai, which has splashed out $8.2 billion on the eye-popping venue in the hope of boosting its soft power and resetting the economy, will now open its doors in October 2021. The original opening scheduled for October 2020 was put off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The expo is “a unique meeting between cultures and languages and people who don’t routinely meet,” said David Knafo, the Tel Aviv-based architect behind the design of Israel’s pavilion.

Designed to reflect Israel’s sense of belonging to the region as well as the openness the Jewish state seeks to broadcast to its Arab neighbors, “the pavilion is… an open space – a living room to host the expo visitors,” Knafo said.

Concept videos of the pavilion reveal stairs leading up to a representation of a sand dune.

Israeli architect David Knafo who designed Israel’s pavilion for the Expo 2020 Dubai, talks during an interview with AFP in his Tel Aviv office, on November 28, 2019. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Described as a “pavilion with no walls and no borders,” the stairs are arched by large LED screens showing images of different aspects of Israeli society.

The aim, Knafo said, is to symbolize Israel’s transformation of its deserts through culture and technology, hinting at the possibility that other desert lands could do the same.

An auditorium below the pavilion will offer visitors an interactive multimedia experience, Rotem said.

It aims to showcase “the Israeli spirit and culture” in innovations and developments from fields such as water, medicine, and information technology, he said.

AFP contributed to this report. 

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