Historic headliners

Israel hosts first Independence Day celebration in UAE

Some 600 people gathered at the event in the ballroom of a downtown Abu Dhabi hotel

Embassy of Israel in the UAE

Israel’s first official Independence Day celebration in the United Arab Emirates, May 4, 2023

More than 600 guests gathered on Thursday evening in the ballroom of a downtown Abu Dhabi hotel to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s national day. The event was Israel’s first official Independence Day celebration in the United Arab Emirates. 

The Israeli folk musician Miki Gavrielov was on hand to sing his most famous song, “Ani V’Ata,” which he recorded in 1970 with the late Israeli musical giant Arik Einstein. At Thursday’s party, Gavrielov performed the song — whose lyrics translate to “You and I will change the world” — with the Emirati singer Ahmed Alhosani. Earlier in the evening, Alhosani and the Israeli singer Nicole Raviv sang the national anthems of their respective countries together.

“It’s a very exciting moment for us. I think that that’s another step to be a normal country that has relations with the Emiratis here in Abu Dhabi,” Israeli Ambassador to the UAE Amir Hayek told Jewish Insider ahead of the celebration. Israel and the UAE normalized ties as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords.

“​​I hope that [Emiratis] will understand that Israel is their partner, and not for a short time, and not for a medium time. For a long time,” Hayek added. 

In recent months, ties between Israel and the UAE have come under some strain in response to Israel’s increased tensions with Palestinians. Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich drew condemnation for saying the Palestinian village of Huwara should be wiped off the map, and the UAE requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council after Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the Temple Mount in January. 

“Sometimes we have questions. Sometimes we have things to deal with. But we passed the point of no return, and we are moving fast-forward,” Hayek said of Israel’s relationship with the Gulf state. 

In a speech at the event, Hayek called for more countries to join the Abraham Accords. 

“This is not a zero-sum game,” he said. “The more countries that join, the more everyone will have a brighter future and the Middle East will be better and better.” He thanked the leaders who orchestrated the agreements — UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former U.S. President Donald Trump and — and praised their “great courage.” 

Netanyahu was supposed to visit the UAE in January, but his visit was canceled after details of the visit leaked to the Israeli press and hours after the Ben-Gvir incident. 

“Prime Minister Netanyahu will come to visit the UAE,” said Hayek, who declined to share whether Netanyahu has a trip in the works. “There’s nothing to discuss now. I’m sure that he will. No doubt.”

Any challenges in the Israel-UAE relationship do not appear to have affected the business ties between the two nations. A free-trade agreement between the countries went into effect in April.

“The next big priority is to increase trade, increase investment, increase tourism for both sides,” Hayek told JI. 

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