The warm relationship developing between Israel and UAE and Bahrain has led to a rise in the number of businesspeople in the Gulf learning Hebrew online.
United with Israel Maysoon Hameed comes home from work as a vice president of an Emirati bank, spends time with her family – and then begins a 90-minute live Hebrew class online. “After the UAE signed [the Abraham Accords] with Israel, there are a lot of investment opportunities” for both sides, Hameed tells ISRAEL21c.
“To make connections and build relations, you need something in common with the other party no matter where in the world they are. You have to find a common comfort zone,” she says.
“If I have colleagues from Israel, we don’t have to speak English all the time, even though that is the international business language,” says Hameed. “We will feel closer speaking in a mother tongue.”
Hameed is one of nine Emirati students of Citizen Café in Tel Aviv – six from Abu Dhabi and three from Dubai – plus four from Bahrain.
“We have always had ambassadors and diplomats from around the world, so we barely noticed a few businesspeople from the UAE before,” says Tamar Pross, who founded Citizen Café Hebrew language and Israeli culture school in 2015.
“But when the peace agreement happened, an article in Israel about Emirati diplomat Omar Saif Ghobash mentioned that he’d been studying with us. Suddenly we noticed a huge amount of people contacting us. So we started to promote Citizen Café in the UAE and in Bahrain as well. We were the first to do it.”
Pross says that Ghobash – whose self-taught Hebrew allowed him to enter Citizen Café at a high level – and other “extremely educated, sophisticated, lovely people from the Gulf tourism and business sector are all so excited and interested to engage with Israelis.”
When UAE students are asked why they want to learn Hebrew, “some said they already have Israeli friends and wanted to impress them. Some are Jews living there and discovering their heritage,” says Pross.
“They all tell us how motivated and eager they were to connect and engage with Israelis, and a lot said they can’t wait to visit. The Emiratis are very active on our social media groups.”