Tourism Ministry Warns Israelis: Don’t Discuss Palestinians or Democracy While Visiting UAE

Ministry circulates document regarding 'diplomatic sensitivity,' urging Israelis to avoid sensitive topics including U.S. diplomatic ties, Qatar or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane
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Emirati official near the the first-ever commercial flight from Israel to the UAE, by El Al, on August 31, 2020
Emirati official near the the first-ever commercial flight from Israel to the UAE, by El Al, on August 31, 2020Credit: KARIM SAHIB / AFP
Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane

“Emiratis are still suspicious about the relationship with Israel because they aren’t familiar with it, and therefore you should avoid discussing the Palestinian issue.” This warning appears in the Tourism Ministry’s official document titled “Dos and Don’ts,” published a month ago as Israel normalized ties with the UAE.

The section titled “Diplomatic sensitivity” lists conversation subjects that might be sensitive and recommends that Israelis visiting the UAE avoid bringing them up with Emirati citizens.

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Beyond not discussing the Palestinians, the guide recommends not discussing ties with the United States: “Avoid discussing diplomatic relationships and primarily ties with the United States. These subjects are left to the government.”

In the wake of the normalization deal with the UAE, Israeli citizens have expressed growing interest in visiting the Gulf nation. Israel Airport Authority data shows that some 50,000 passengers will travel to and from Israel and the UAE in December, on more than 300 flights.

Fly Dubai is already offering two daily flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai through December, and Israeli carriers El Al, Israir and Arkia are expected to launch routes as well.

The document was composed by Dr. Yossi Mann, a Mideast specialist and senior lecturer at Bar Ilan University and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. It is designed to present Israeli tourists with crucial information prior to visiting the UAE.

It includes phrases and subjects that UAE residents might consider sensitive due to their own internal issues, and states: “In written or spoken conversation with UAE residents, do not state ‘Persian gulf nations’ but rather ‘Arab gulf nations.’ This expression emphasizes Arab dominance in the region, instead of Iranian dominance.”

A worker carries Israeli and Emirati flags, after containers carrying goods from the UAE were unloaded at Haifa's port, October 12, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

“Contrary to prevailing opinion, Qatar is not part of the UAE and is actually considered an enemy. The two countries are competing in nearly every field: Regional influence, ties with Iran, ties with the regional Islamic forces and economically, which is expressed as a fight for control over the market for flights.”

In order to create a positive impression on Emiratis during conversation, the document recommends complimenting “the UAE’s role, standing and accomplishments in the Middle East. Emiratis admire their founder – Sheikh Zaid Bin Nahian – who became the UAE’s first leader and implemented its vision.”

As many Emirati citizens are quite wealthy, their country is economically stable, they receive generous government subsidies and many citizens are proud of their country’s accomplishments and less interested in politics, Mann says, as they’re not accustomed to lacking things.

Given that the UAE is not a democratic nation, Mann recommends not criticizing the government: “It is entirely forbidden to question the royal family’s rule. It’s not acceptable to discuss democracy as the preferable form of government. The Emaritis are very fearful of dysfunctional democracy such as that in Kuwait and prefer the tribal-social order that has proved itself for the past few decades. In general it’s best not to discuss the royal family with Emiratis.”

“The country does not have political parties and thus it’s best not to discuss local politics. Citizens prefer their tribal allegiance, which they advance via tribal institutions or familial relations. In the UAE foreign workers come from various nations, such as Egypt, Lebanon and Iran. Thus be careful not to discuss regional politics with people if you’re not sure about their background."

"Avoid discussing the government or country’s policy toward foreign workers,” the document concludes.

This is the second such document the Tourism Ministry has published regarding the UAE. At the end of September it published a document forecasting that when the coronavirus pandemic ended, a potential 100,000 UAE tourists could visit Israel every year. This is a particularly attractive prospect given that Emirati tourists spend on average $2,000-$20,000 per trip.

The Tourism Ministry sees great potential in the UAE. While it has only 9.6 million citizens, it is among the top 20 countries in terms of residents’ expenditures during trips abroad. Emiratis spent some $17.1 billion during trips abroad in 2016, it states.

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