Rep. Brad Schneider introduces bipartisan resolution on Israel as F-35 deal looms

As the Trump administration reportedly nears a deal to sell F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, a group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress are reaffirming their commitment to Israel maintaining its qualitative military edge (QME).

On Friday, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) introduced a bill, with 17 cosponsors, reaffirming U.S. support for Israel’s QME and adding new requirements, including mandating the president consult with Israeli government officials before making any arms sales in the Middle East that could affect the QME. The bill’s cosponsors include Reps. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), who is vying for chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is also a cosponsor.

The bill would also require the president to submit an assessment to Congress of the impact such a deal would have on Israel’s QME within 60 days of notifying Congress of a Middle East arms deal. 

While Schneider’s bill does not specifically mention the F-35 sale to the UAE, he stressed to Jewish Insider that the issue was the impetus for the legislation.

“I thought it was important to reiterate that the United States has a commitment to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge,” Schneider told JI. “God willing, there’ll be peace, not just with the UAE and Bahrain, but with all of Israel’s Arab neighbors. That doesn’t change the fact that Israel always needs to have that qualitative military advantage, because things change. Just look at Turkey.”

Although House Democrats have been more vocal in their opposition to the F-35 sale, Schneider believes that support for Israel remains bipartisan.

“I think that’s reflected in the fact that this was a bill introduced with Republican and Democratic support,” he said. “And I have no doubt that my Republican colleagues are just as committed to Israel’s security as my Democratic colleagues.”

Schneider added that he is concerned that an F-35 sale to the UAE would create a precedent and lead other Arab nations to seek the aircraft as well.

“We’ll look for the president to take whatever steps necessary to comply with the law and protect our ally,” Schneider said.

In Zoom chat, UAE ambassador Al Otaiba answered questions from JI readers

During Tuesday’s Jewish Insider webcast conversation with United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba, Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban, and former White House deputy national security advisor Dina Powell McCormick, live viewers were treated to some bonus content in Zoom’s comments section. Al Otaiba pulled an impressive feat of multitasking as he generously engaged with attendees and their questions while fully participating in the panel conversation. 

Below are some of the highlights from Al Otaiba’s brief responses to JI readers’ questions during the live event. (The questions and responses have been lightly edited for clarity.)

Question: “How much credit goes to the Trump administration for this agreement between the UAE and Israel and between Bahrain and Israel?”

Al Otaiba: “A lot of credit!”

Question: “What challenges did you face when coming up with the [2019 op-ed] piece and subsequently drafting the Abraham Accords?”

Al Otaiba: “Domestic Israeli politics.”

Question: “Do you see UAE citizens visiting Jerusalem and the Islamic holy sites….What if the Palestinans object?”

Al Otaiba: “Honestly, not sure yet. It’s something we will discuss.”

Question: “The initial Palestinian reaction notwithstanding, does the UAE see a role for itself — in concert with others or otherwise — in prepping the PA/PLO for eventual negotiations?”

Al Otaiba: “If it’s part of a team effort, possibly.”

Question: “When do you think flights start?”

Al Otaiba: “Hopefully within a few months.”

Question: “Some on the Jewish right have been critical of streets in Sharjah that are named for who they perceive to be Palestinian terrorists as well as Intifada roads, and that because of that Israelis and Jews should be skeptical of the UAE. How does the UAE respond to this criticism?”

Al Otaiba: ”We’re moving in the right direction. This is a process of evolution. And the best sign of that forward progress is the Abraham Accords.”

Question: “How can U.S. and Israeli venture capitalists and entrepreneurs collaborate with the UAE on potential investments? Can the embassy help in any way?”

Al Otaiba: “We can always help entities find the right partners. We can be guides.”

Question: “According to you what are the future possible agreements which will be signed by UAE and Israel as this agreement is a framework for future relations?”

Al Otaiba: “Technical agreements on civil aviation, investment, trade, finance, research, technology among others.”

(Watch a complete recording of the conversation here.)

UAE chief rabbi: 10,000 Jews could soon live in gulf nation

United Arab Emirates Chief Rabbi Yehuda Sarna predicted during a Jewish Insider webcast yesterday that the small Jewish community in Dubai and Abu Dhabi could soon number in the thousands.

“It would not surprise me if in a number of years, if we’re not looking at 1,000 Jews in the UAE, but we’re looking at something closer to 10,000 — and we’re looking at hundreds of thousands of Israeli and Jewish tourists a year,” Sarna said.

When Sarna was named the inaugural chief rabbi of the UAE in March 2019, the announcement made waves around the world. But, said UAE Ambassador to the United Nations Lana Nusseibeh during the JI virtual event, the appointment marked an important moment in relations between Israel and the UAE, and more broadly, between Jews and Muslims across the globe. 

“I think what it demonstrated to colleagues at the U.N. is that this is what is at stake in our work every day in multilateral diplomacy and these agreements that we sign, that ultimately they are about the people-to-people connection,” Nusseibeh said.

Sarna first visited the UAE after New York University — where he has served as a university chaplain since 2002 — opened a campus in Abu Dhabi in 2008.

“When I received the invitation from [then NYU] President John Sexton to come to Abu Dhabi, truth is I’d never heard of it before, I could not have pointed to it on a map and knew nothing of its history or heritage,” Sarna admitted.

“From that first moment when I landed in the airport in Abu Dhabi and was just treated like everyone else, was treated with such a sense of welcoming and hospitality. But [what] it almost immediately did is it began pulling apart my own stereotypes. Even though I had been the one working to combat Islamophobia, nevertheless, there were still remnants, which I had to come to terms with on my own.”

And the recent UAE-Israel peace accord, Sarna said, will have a major global impact.

“I think what we’re looking at is really a tipping point in Muslim-Jewish relations worldwide,” Sarna added. “There is a tremendous, tremendous enthusiasm, curiosity, energy, excitement, about building out not just the political dimensions of the accord, but building out everything else that it’s giving a platform to.”

UAE Ambassador to the United Nations Lana Nusseibeh

Nusseibeh agreed, telling the webcast: “I don’t find it surprising that I spent Yom Kippur yesterday speaking to a synagogue in Rye, [New York].”

Both panelists agreed that the normalization process could serve as a model for future relationships in the region.

“Our foreign minister announced today that we would be seeking election to the U.N. Security Council, the highest body for peace and security,” Nusseibeh shared. “The vote will happen in June next year. And I think it’s an opportunity for us to demonstrate everything that we have been discussing here today about our model, our perspective for the region, a perspective of openness, tolerance, integration, working to find regional solutions.”

Beyond the political and cultural impacts of the normalization agreement, both Nusseibeh and Sarna expressed optimism for the economic opportunities afforded by the normalization of two growing economies. 

“Jews who are living in the UAE came, for the most part, because they feel safe there. And for economic opportunity, whether they’re coming from Europe or South Africa, or the United States, or Canada, or Syria, or Lebanon or Tunisia,” Sarna explained. “With rising antisemitism in several countries, and with economies in certain countries not being as strong, they felt like there was opportunity.”

Nusseibeh echoed that sentiment. “I think, on the people-to-people level, everyone is looking for the opportunities for growth,” she said. “We understand we have a massive youth demographic, we need to provide opportunities for that youth demographic around our region. And we’re looking at ways to innovate startups, AI, and all these other industries.”

“What struck me is that while we’re witnessing a moment and an opportunity,” she continued, “we’re also taking on a responsibility, all of us who witnessed that, who supported that, who thought it was the right step for the region. And I think that responsibility is to make this work, to realize this vision for peace in our region.”

Sarna shared with the webcast that he spent Rosh Hashanah in Abu Dhabi this year. He said he met Israelis who had already moved to the UAE in the weeks since the Abraham Accords were announced. And he believes the free movement between the countries will have a long-lasting effect.

“I think one unforeseen consequence of this is that a deeper engagement between Israelis and Emiratis will actually challenge, for many Israelis, their notion of what does it mean to be Arab,” Sarna concluded. “And I think that will very much have a bit of a moderating effect on the Israeli political spectrum.”

UAE’s Al Otaiba goes behind the scenes of the Abraham Accords

United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba on Tuesday hailed the Trump administration for working to finalize a normalization agreement between the UAE and Israel, which he said came as a result of Emirati efforts to halt Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank.

During a Jewish Insider webcast alongside Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban — moderated by former White House deputy national security advisor Dina Powell McCormick — Al Otaiba described the behind-the-scenes efforts that culminated in the groundbreaking Abraham Accords.

One of the first steps in the process, Al Otaiba said, came when he asked Saban to help him publish an op-ed aimed at the Israeli public during the time that annexation was being considered. “Haim told me where it should be placed, when it should be placed and, the most important piece of advice on this was, you have to do it in Hebrew,” the ambassador said. “If you really want to speak to the Israelis, it has to be translated in Hebrew.”

“I remember a subsequent conversation with [Saban], asking, ‘Hey, do you think this article made an impact?’” Al Otaiba recalled. “He started laughing at me, like laughing loudly. He’s like, ‘You have no idea how much impact this article had.’ And it was shortly after the article we then started thinking of actual concrete ideas to avoid annexation.”

Al Otaiba said he remembered “having a really serious conversation with [White House Mideast peace envoy] Avi Berkowitz on July 2, right after he returned from Israel, and figuring out what we can do to prevent [annexation], how do we trade this? How do we give something better?”

The deal, which was formally signed earlier this month during a ceremony on the White House South Lawn, jump-started the normalization of relations between the two countries in exchange for Israel’s commitment to shelve a planned annexation of West Bank territory.

The panelists noted that while the threat of annexation may have brought the sides to the negotiating table, there was little doubt that the larger threat posed by Iran was also a driving force. “There is no question that when you have a common enemy that is, basically, a cancer in the region, you unite forces against that enemy,” remarked Saban, who explained that “people have realized that there is much more upside, aligning with Israel, and forming a front against Iran.”

Both Saban and Al Otaiba credited U.S. leadership for helping to manage the negotiation process and deliver on the agreements. “I think the United States government came through every single time,” Al Otaiba said. “And that’s the reason we had the signing ceremony two weeks ago at the White House.”

The Emirati ambassador lauded Berkowitz, Jared Kushner and Brig. Gen. Miguel Correa for their efforts. “I spoke and talked to them and met with them, probably more in that four weeks than I did with anybody else, including my own family. If it wasn’t for them, I’m not sure this deal would be done,” Al Otaiba said, adding: “for anything like this to happen, it takes an incredible amount of trust.”

Saban, a longtime donor to Democratic candidates and causes, including the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden, also praised Kushner, Al Otaiba, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed, Emirati Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed and Mossad director Yossi Cohen for paving the way for the deal. The Israeli-American businessman called the agreement “game-changing,” explaining: “There was no precedent for public commitment to normalization… Israelis would give their right arm to have peace with all its Arab neighbors.”

Al Otaiba echoed a similar interest in bilateral peace on the Emirati side, telling the webcast: “People always think we do not pay attention to public opinion inside the Emirates because we’re not a democracy. And it’s actually quite the opposite. Because we’re not a democracy, we have to be very in tune with what our people want, and what the streets feel. And people really wanted this. This is not something that we are forcing against the popular will of the parties that live in the country. There is a genuine energy, that people are excited about this.”

The three participants also sought to emphasize the economic benefits of the recent agreement.

Powell McCormick, who serves on Goldman Sachs’s management committee, noted that “we’re already having clients call us and ask about investment opportunities.”

Al Otaiba said he thinks “people forget about the immediate benefits that we’re going to have once you have direct commercial flights and tourism, about trade, investment, research, development, COVID research.” The ambassador added: “It is not a coincidence that when Jared Kushner came from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi on that historic flight, the first set of MOUs that we submitted to the United States to get done were on consular affairs, civil aviation, trade, prevention of double taxation, protection of investments — what we feel is the foundation, the infrastructure for any healthy relationship, so we can have mutual wins, so you can have trade investment R&D.”

Saban said at least five Israeli entrepreneurs have reached out to him with ideas to invest in the UAE. “Even my chief investment officer and the head of my VC division, they came to me and they said, ‘We have an idea that we can do with the Emiratis.’”

Al Otaiba noted how much has already occurred in just the few weeks since the accord was announced.

“We’ve already seen MOUs on AI, on COVID research, on health care and just today, a very prominent soccer club in Dubai bought an Israeli soccer player,” he noted. “Once an Emirati investor feels that he can invest in Israel safely, and an Israeli investor feels that he can invest in the UAE safely and not get taxed twice… I think the stars are the limit.”

UAE Ambassadors Yousef Al Otaiba and Lana Nusseibeh to join a JI webcast on peace

Following the historic signing of the Abraham Accords earlier this week, Jewish Insider will be hosting a pair of back-to-back panel discussions featuring leaders from the United Arab Emirates in conversation with other top JI readers. 

On September 29 at 1 p.m. ET, hear from Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates Yousef Al Otaiba in conversation with business leader Haim Saban and Dina Powell McCormick, the former U.S. deputy national security director, on how the peace agreement between Israel and the UAE came to be. 

Al Otaiba has met with a number of Jewish organizations in recent weeks, including several in the last few days, but this event will be his first public conversation with a largely Jewish audience. Saban, a close friend of Al Otaiba and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed, is credited with helping broker the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE and encouraging Al Otaiba to write a groundbreaking op-ed in an Israeli newspaper earlier this year. 

Ambassador Lana Zaki Nusseibeh has served as the Emirates’ representative at the United Nations since 2013. Nusseibeh holds a masters degree in Israeli and Jewish Diaspora Studies from the University of London. Earlier this year, Nusseibeh addressed an American Jewish Committee webcast on combating the coronavirus. For this conversation, she’ll be joined by Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the inaugural chief rabbi of the UAE, to discuss the growing relationship between the UAE and the Jewish community, both locally and around the world. 

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