Nelson Mandela stated in his autobiography, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”
These words are exceptionally relevant in the Middle East, a region that been known for conflict and war. With the announcement of the Abraham Accords, first between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and now with Bahrain and Sudan as well, a new potential paradigm is forming, that paves the path to broader regional peace.
While politicians, business leaders, and negotiators undeniably played a central role in establishing these agreements, the role of education is fundamental to the pivot taking place.
Indeed, the peace blossoming with the UAE in particular is not only declarative, but has moved the populations of both countries, demonstrating that it runs much deeper than mutual political or commercial interests and is ingrained deeper within the societies.
In 2016, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, launched a new educational initiative known as “moral education,” mandating that students from elementary to high school learn about morality, civic studies, cultural studies, and community. The goals of this curriculum include teaching about tolerance, fairness, and equality. Just two weeks after the peace agreement was announced, the UAE adapted its textbooks to include the new treaty. The fact that a “young ambassadors” program between Emirati and Israeli children is in the works is a natural byproduct of such education and its commitment to the transformation that creates sustainable and long-lasting peace.
The ‘three nos’ of the 1967 Khartoum Conference and today’s potential regional shift towards the ‘three yeses’ underscores the contrast in these two educational systems. The move from yes to recognition, and then, yes to peace is where the true importance of education lies. The order is important. The UAE’s emphasis on tolerance permits recognition of the other, of the Jew in the Middle East, of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, and of the need to combat the antisemitism of those who deny this right. Only once mutual “recognition” takes place, is the third ‘yes’ — peace — possible.
This vital step of recognition, not only by the leadership but also by the population at large, underscores why the UAE’s emphasis on tolerance is so important.
In the context of what was known as the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the pivot represented in the Abraham Accords, recognition also highlights the significance of adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism — a definition that enables all those to define, understand, and combat the modern-day manifestations of the oldest form of hatred, including delegitimisation of the state of Israel. Without it, recognition of Israel, the only Jewish state, is impossible. With it, peace can thrive. In this regard, just two weeks ago, Bahrain became the first Arab state to adopt the IHRA definition. We hope other Arab and Gulf states follow their courageous lead.
It is our sincere wish and prayer — as politicians and peace activists who yearn for a brighter future for our children — that together we can engage both our people in building lasting peace that can serve as a model for the region as a whole. The people-to-people collaboration between civil society, business leaders, and politicians, as well as acceptance and tolerance of our differences will be crucial in this regard.
Leaders have the responsibility to plant the seeds for recognition, the basis for negotiation and enabling peace. Education is the water that gives these seeds the life they need to flourish and grow. As stated by the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, one of the great thought leaders of our time, “Tomorrow’s world is born in what we teach our children today.”
Michal Cotler-Wunsh is a Member of Knesset for the Blue and White Party in Israel. Thani Al Shirawi is Group Deputy Managing Director of Oasis Investment Company & a founding member of the UAE-Israel Business Council. Arsen Ostrovsky is an Israel-based international human rights lawyer and Executive Director of The Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC).
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