I’m Jealous of the Abraham Accords

Is it normal to be jealous of the UAE? Yes, if you’re an Iranian Jew.
September 17, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 17: Sitting at tables spaced out to reduce possible transmission of the novel coronavirus, Iranian-Americans gather under yellow umbrellas on the west side of the U.S. Capitol to demonstrate in support of a free Iran July 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Watching the live video of the signing of the historic Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (and Bahrain) at the White House on Sept. 15 was like attending an ex’s wedding. There they were, the happy parties, joined in peace and unity. And there I sat, seething with jealousy.

As a Zionist, I love this new era of peace and what it means for Israel. But inside, I coveted with a passion that would have left Abraham mortified. Is it normal to be jealous of the UAE? Yes, if you’re an Iranian Jew.

I watched “the groom,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and “the bride,” UAE Foreign Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed, stand together and I wished I was the bride. There should have been a Persian bride at the White House last week. It should have been Iran.

For 41 years, my community — which once boasted 100,000 Jews in Iran — has watched helplessly as the regime has targeted Israel through a campaign of terror, demonization and proxy wars. You can’t imagine what it’s like as an Iranian-American Jew watching Iranian leaders host Holocaust cartoon contests every year.

In his remarks, President Donald Trump said the Abraham Accords “open the door for Muslims around the world to visit the historic sites in Israel and to peacefully pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam.” And Israelis now can visit Bahrain and the UAE in total freedom. Such sweet words, and yet, they were like salt on a wound.

want that. I want to be able to go back to Iran. I want to swim in the Caspian Sea and buy flowers at the famous Tehran bazaar. I want to return, only this time as an annoying tourist who won’t be fooled by local merchants. I want to haggle with them in perfect Persian until their hair falls out. That’s how I’ll know I’m truly back.

Is it normal to be jealous of the UAE? Yes, if you’re an Iranian Jew.

But more than anything, I want to visit the graves of my paternal grandparents, whom I lovingly called Babachi and Nanechi, but never saw again after we escaped Iran. If an Israeli now can sunbathe in Bahrain, is it too much to ask that I be able to place a stone on my Nanechi’s grave in Tehran?

During the ceremony, when bin Zayed passed on “the regards of the UAE people” to millions of Israelis, I broke down. Peace is so hard-earned and yet so attainable. Many Iranians don’t hate Israel. They hate the Iranian regime. I believe the Iranian people do send their regards to the people of Israel.

Trump said that “other countries will follow” and pursue peace with the Jewish state. At that point, he was just teasing me. Yes, other countries  follow (according to some analysts, Morocco might be next), but not Iran. It’s too busy. All that uranium won’t enrich itself.

If Morocco and Israel normalize relations, I expect to attend a peace agreement party hosted by local Moroccan Jews, who’ll cheer and toast with cups full of arak, while I sit on an ottoman and seethe. Sure, I’ll clap, but it will be hard to watch. Does that make me self-centered and petty? Yes. But I really loved my Nanechi.

Israel and some Arab states are aligning to thwart Iranian power in the region, and last week’s ceremony sent a clear message to Tehran. Will there be peace between Israel and Iran in my lifetime? I don’t know. The bigger question is whether there will be a free, democratic Iran in my lifetime. It’s something I pray I’ll live to see.Maybe one day, the president of a free Iran will stand alongside the Israeli prime minister at the White House. Can you imagine that? Nothing will keep me away from that ceremony.

During his remarks, Netanyahu imagined a future where Jews and Arabs “live together, pray together, and dream together.” Until a president of a free Iran offers such messages of peace and friendship at the White House, it’s still just that — a dream. But I won’t stop hoping.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer, speaker and activist.

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