Controversial Israeli chief rabbi visits Dubai for school opening

Controversial Israeli chief rabbi visits Dubai to open Jewish school
3 min read
19 December, 2020
Israeli Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has travelled to Dubai to open a Jewish nursery school, in the first ever visit by a sitting chief rabbi to an Arab country
Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef visited the Jewish Community Centre in Dubai [Twitter]
Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, travelled to Dubai on Thursday to inaugurate a Jewish nursery school and officially proclaim Rabbi Levi Duchman as rabbi of the Jewish community in the United Arab Emirates, Israeli media have reported.

"During [Chief Rabbi Yosef's] visit, he will meet with senior Emirati officials, inaugurate the newly certified Jewish [nursery] school, and, in a special ceremony, invest Rabbi Levi Duchman as rabbi of the Emirati Jewish community," a statement from Dubai’s Jewish Community Centre said.

The Times of Israel said that this was the first visit ever by a sitting chief rabbi to an Arab country.

Yosef will remain in Dubai as a guest of honour of the Jewish Community Centre.

"The visit of the Chief Rabbi is as historic as it is a great honour for us to host him here in the Emirates," said Rabbi Duchman.

"We are excited to welcome him as we dedicate and break ground on several of our new institutions, which are being constructed with the swiftness and efficiency for which the UAE has become world-famous."

There are varying estimates of how many Jews there are in the United Arab Emirates, with Solly Wolf, a Dubai-based Jewish businessman, telling the Times of Israel in June that there were 1,500, and other sources giving figures in the low hundreds.

Until 2020, the community kept a relatively low profile.

Duchman, who is from the Jewish orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement, became the rabbi of the Jewish Community Centre in Dubai amid controversy earlier this year, with some Jews accusing him of a "hostile takeover" of the leadership of the UAE's Jewish community.

As well as investing Duchman and inaugurating the nursery school, Chief Rabbi Yosef is due to visit Dubai's Beit Tefillah Synagogue, dedicate another synagogue, and inspect a kosher slaughterhouse and restaurant.

Yosef is the spiritual leader of Jews of North African and Middle Eastern origin in Israel and has made controversial statements in the past, saying in 2016 that Israeli soldiers had a religious duty to kill Palestinian attackers and that non-Jews should not be allowed to live in "the Land of Israel" unless they accepted a subordinate role.

He caused uproar in 2018 by comparing black people to monkeys. These statements were condemned by the Anti-Defamation League, a major US Jewish advocacy group.

Read more: In Israel, extremist rabbis are becoming the norm

The UAE and Israel announced that they were normalising relations last August, amid condemnation from Palestinians, who pointed out that the UAE was offering normal diplomatic and cultural ties to Israel while Israel was illegally occupying Palestinian land in the West Bank and besieging the Gaza Strip.

Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco also normalised relations with Israel in 2020, under heavy pressure from outgoing US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Public opinion surveys in the Arab world have shown overwhelming popular disapproval of the normalisation deals.

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