The Abraham Accords Represent a Religious as Well as a Political Breakthrough

November 19, 2020 | Meir Soloveichik
About the author: Meir Soloveichik is the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York and director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University.

In his speech at the signing of his country’s normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Benjamin Netanyahu offered a profound biblical insight in citing a verse from Psalms “May God give strength to His people. May God bless His people with peace.” Meir Soloveichik observes:

The biblical reference captured the astonishing transformation in diplomacy that had occurred. The premise of the Oslo Accords of 1993 had been that Israel had to “take risks” for peace, that only an Israel that was willing to make itself weaker could reach an agreement with the Palestinians, and that only peace with the Palestinians would allow for normalization with the Arab world. Israelis soured on these risks when what followed was not peace, but bus bombings and café massacres. Now, in a region terrified of Iran, it is not Israeli weakness but strength that makes it so attractive, and an agreement with the Palestinians has been deemed unnecessary for normalization with other Arab countries.

The achievement is not only political in nature. Right before the accord signings, the president’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner presented the king of Bahrain with a Torah scroll.

Strikingly, the verse cited by Netanyahu is sung in synagogue every Sabbath as the Torah is returned to the Ark, hinting thereby that what is occurring is religious rapprochement, an embrace by two Islamic countries of the world’s center of Judaism.

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, [just three days after the signing ceremony], Jews around the world read from the Torah about the separation of Ishmael, by God, from a heartbroken Abraham, and the angel of the Almighty saving Ishmael in the desert. On one of our holiest days, the Jewish focus is, for a moment, not on Isaac, but on the Almighty’s concern for his elder brother. The Jewish people, no matter how persecuted, always made manifest the bond between them and the rest of humanity, yearning for a moment not when all nations will become Jews but when all will recognize the truth of Abraham’s mission, and amity between enemies would be achieved.

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