The Abraham Accords is a series of joint normalization statements between Israel and four Arab countries-the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. The Accords, which originated in 2020, establish formal relations between these countries that had been near each other geographically-but worlds apart politically.
Now, the non-governmental initiative called Sharaka-Arabic for "partnership"-aims to turn that nearness into closeness. "With Egypt and Jordan, Israel ended wars, but did not want a people-to-people peace," said Dan Feferman, an Israeli American and the executive director of Sharaka.
Through the Abraham Accords, there is opportunity to build relationships between Israel and the other countries. "We…have to make an effort to build relationships," he continued. "There is an enlightenment taking place, a shedding of old ways that dragged the region down. We have to pick up that baton, and run with it."
To encourage such friendships, Sharaka-based in Israel with chapters in UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and the U.S.-- has become a hub for academic, artistic, and athletic collaborations; the organization hosts dialogues, and fosters joint initiatives, between Israelis-both Jews and non-Jews-and the citizens of Arab nations. Sharaka also sends delegations to countries in the region and worldwide.
Feferman led one such delegation to Chicago, earlier this spring, which included the following Sharaka representation: Bahrain native Ahmed Khuzaie, director of U.S. affairs; Youssef Elazhari, Morocco director; Fatema Al Harbi, Gulf affairs and Bahrain director; and Miki Dubery, development director.
Elazhari said he joined Sharaka to promote friendship with Israel and to fight radicalization. "I want people to be curious [about each other] again," he said. "The media says Israel is the source of all problems. But it's not-it's a distraction from our own problems. We have a Jewish community in Morocco, my country. We have a model of peaceful Islam. My Islam taught me to be peaceful."
The Sharaka delegation's Chicago itinerary, coordinated by Steven Dishler, JUF Assistant Vice President of International & Public Affairs, included visits with leadership at JUF and young professionals at Base West Loop. JUF-- which has partnerships with most of the countries that signed the Abraham Accords-- has led multiple missions to Morocco and the United Arab Emirates before and after the signing of the Abraham Accords, as well as one to Bahrain last year.
The delegation also toured the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, and met with representatives from the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce Chicago, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest, and Friends of ELNET (European Leadership Network). They also met with leaders at the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Iraqi Christian Relief Council.
Earlier this spring, Sharaka participated in the March of the Living program on Yom Hashoah, bringing 22 Arab influencers, journalists, academics, and activists from seven Mideast nations on the 2-mile march from Auschwitz to Birkenau death camps.
The journey is part of Sharaka's broader Tolerance Program in which Arab participants attend lectures and dialogues about combating antisemitism, extremism, and genocide, while promoting tolerance and moderation within Islam. Following their visit to Auschwitz, participants launch coexistence and Holocaust education programs back in their home communities.
The Abraham Accords, says Khuzaie, are a win for everyone. "Both we and Israel have much to offer [to promote] peace, development, and prosperity," he noted. "We live in a desert. We need technology; Israel has it. [If I want to] speak to Israel now, I don't have to go through Israel or Jordan [contacts]. I can just pick up the phone."
Elazhari is gratified, he said, by the warm embrace of the Jewish community. "It's surprising," he said, "to be loved by someone you are expected to hate."
For more information, visit sharakango.com.