Fleur Hassan-Nahoum is Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem in charge of foreign relations, international economic development and tourism. She is also the co-founder and founding member of the UAE–Israel Business Council. Born in London, she made Aliyah to Israel in 2001.
The Jewish Policy Center’s Senior Director Shoshana Bryen was pleased to have an opportunity to speak with Hassan-Nahoum as she traveled to Washington for the rally.
Shoshana Bryen: You are co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council. Please talk to us about something that appears to have gone missing in the US press. How do Israel’s Abraham Accords partners see this war for Israel’s defense? What can you tell us about the Algerian proposal at the Islamic Summit that was shot down by the Accords members plus Saudi Arabia?
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum: We have to understand that in the Arab world, rhetoric and actions are not always the same things. In the case of the UAE and Bahrain, which have made peace with Israel, that peace is not going anywhere. And the main reason is that they themselves experienced their own threats from the Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE kicked out of the country about 10 years ago. Bahrain, similarly. And Saudi Arabia has spent a good part of the last decade really trying to get rid of the Wahhabi fundamentalists, which are really the same thing as the Muslim Brotherhood, from their country.
So many of the moderate and forward looking of the countries in the Arab world understand something what we’ve seen for a while now: that is that the region is split into two. There are countries that want peace and prosperity and advancement for their people. And there are the countries that want fundamentalism and a structured Jihadi mentality essentially setting them back 500 years. And we all know which side Iran is in this equation, and that Iran has been prolific in creating proxies for their war.
So, Hamas is in Gaza, but we’ve also got Hezbollah to the north of Israel in southern Lebanon. They’ve destroyed Lebanon. They’ve destroyed Syria, they’ve got people in Yemen, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and these places are all the properties of Iran – which really does want to split the region into exactly what I’ve been talking about.
I’m not worried about the long-term health of the Abraham Accords. But of course, in the “Arab street” those countries have to be very careful because the Palestinian cause plays well there. They’re also concerned about their own fundamentalists, who could come back into their countries. So, they’ve got to play this game where they condemn Israel, but on the other hand, everybody knows they’re not moving, and they’re not going to be turning back the Abraham Accords.
Bryen: At the Islamic Summit, the Algerians proposed severing all diplomatic and economic relations with Israel, denying Arab airspace to Israeli flights, and oil-producing Muslim countries threatening “to use oil as a means of leverage.” In line with what you said, the proposal was shot down by the Abraham Accords countries, plus Saudi Arabia and a few others.
Hassan-Nahoum: Exactly. And this is why the Abraham Accords are so important, so strategic – not just because of the development of the economy and innovation of the region, but because ultimately these moderate Arab countries are presenting an alternative to the whole region going up in flames with these Jihadists.
Bryen: You also have hopes, then, for continuing rapprochement with Saudi Arabia after the war?
Hassan-Nahoum: Yes. The main thing that Saudi Arabia was always looking for has been a defense act with the United States. What they need is the big player – the biggest player in the world, US – to be there for them if they actually get into hostilities with Iran, which of course has now aligned itself with China and to Russia and all the bad guys. Essentially that’s what the Saudis are really interested in. And of course, peace with Israel comes with the package; that’s the price they have to pay. That’s what was happening before the war. I think that it has been put on hold, but I don’t think it’s been derailed completely.
Bryen: You are Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem – the capital of Israel and the Jewish people, but also a diverse, multicultural and multireligious city. What can you tell us about the feeling in Jerusalem these days?
Hassan-Nahoum: Absolutely. it is the most diverse city in the country: 40 percent of the population of Jerusalem is Arab Muslim, 5 percent is Christian, and the rest Jews – with the ultra-Orthodox and the secular and everything in between. Right now, when people ask me what’s going on in Jerusalem, I tell them Jerusalem has become – overnight – a city of refuge. We have almost 50,000 evacuees from the north and the south of the country. We’re very busy helping them with anything they need – from clothes to social services to schooling for their children. We’re very busy.
There is a kind of quiet tension, and sometimes not even tension, because we’re used to having these hostilities with the different proxies of Iran – with Hamas, with Hezbollah. But now we have found a way of living together, I would say, that I haven’t seen for a long time. There are no fundamentalists there, but there are issues. Unfortunately, a young woman, American immigrant, was killed last week, stabbed by a terrorist. We also had an incident of a shooting two weeks ago. But on the whole, Jerusalem is relatively calm in the midst of all of this.
Bryen: That’s good to hear. And we also hear lots of very heroic, positive stories about Israel’s Arab citizen population. Do you feel that they have come to see themselves more as Israelis?
Hassan-Nahoum: That is a really interesting question. I think the first few days with the shock and horror of the massacre, many, many Arabs said, essentially, “Not in Our Name.” [Ed. Referencing an originally American protest organization; the tag line has been used in various ways.] Also, remember that Hamas brutally murdered at least 20 Arabs. We also believe there are a few in captivity. And many Arab citizens bravely saved tens and tens of people and put themselves and their families at risk to save Jews. There is a sense of mutual appreciation and sympathy and empathy for what’s happened; what we’ve shared together. Many, many Arabs have come out and said, “This is not what we wanted to, this is not how we were brought up. Not in Our Name.”
Bryen: That’s a great answer.
You are on your way to what may prove to be the largest pro-Israel rally ever held in the United States. The rally has enormous support from non-Jewish Americans – Evangelicals get a special call-out here. What is your message to the rally participants about Israel and also about US-Israel relations in the future?
Hassan-Nahoum: Unfortunately, we are considering this right now because of the horrific and massive Hamas attack, but one thing we have always been very clear about is that the Jewish people are one family. Whether we are here or we’re there, whether you’re a Jewish person in the diaspora or an Israeli, we’re one family. Sometimes we argue, sometimes we don’t see eye to eye. But when it counts, we are there for each other and we are one people.
We are one heart.
Bryen: And US-Israel relations. How do you see the United States and Israel moving together in the future?
Hassan-Nahoum: Everybody in Israel really appreciates President Biden’s support, his empathy, the way he came to Israel immediately, the way he embraced us in our moments of pain. And we very much appreciate that warm embrace, the friendship. And so, we have great appreciation.
And I think America understands, as well, that Israel is not fighting a local war. Israel is on the frontline of civilization between the Free World and jihadi fundamentalism. I think that we all understand that we’re doing this for the good of the Free World and each other, and we are very grateful for the Americans backing us in such a way.
Bryen: Thank you for the great answer – optimistic and realistic, and we appreciate it. And as I said to you first thing this morning, I am personally very pleased to have had this opportunity and we all wish you great success at the rally and in your pursuit of a better Middle East for all its people.
Thank you for being with us.
Hassan-Nahoum: It was my pleasure.