Meet the American Rabbi who Advises Gulf Monarchies

Published February 24th, 2021 - 04:01 GMT
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Rabbi Marc Schneier with the King of Bahrain (Foundation for Ethnic Understanding)
The formal diplomatic ties between Israel and Arab governments around the region are deepening.

And even though Israeli-Arab diplomacy has existed through back channels for decades, the recent formalization of these connections has enabled a slew of political shifts to occur. Companies in countries like the U.A.E. and Bahrain are looking into opening up shop in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The U.A.E.’s first official synagogue is set to open in 2022. 

Rabbi Marc Schneier has on the forefront of these moves,  advising some of these governments on their policy towards Israel and the American Jewish community. He’s been a special advisor to King Hamad of Bahrain, he led the first-ever Evangelical Christian mission to Azerbaijan, and continues to be in contact with officials front the UAE to help guide further interfaith efforts. As a political figure, he occupies a unique, if little known position in global politics. His presence in meetings and discussions allows governments to claim that they seek to be friendly to the Jewish people.

By the same token, the governments Rabbi Schneier remains close to are waging a disastrous war in Yemen, jailing and surveilling dissidents, defunding Palestinians schools, and appear to be cynically approaching normalization with Israel as a way for their companies to exploit Palestinians as a source of cheap, vulnerable labor. Their policies toward Israel by and large have been rejected by their own people, as activists widely claim normalization will come at the fatal expense of any Palestinian hope for self-determination. 

Last podcast I spoke with Palestinian activist Fadi Quran, and he told me Palestinians plan to boycott the companies of Arab states normalizing with Israel, a tactic Rabbi Schneier calls silly and stubborn in our discussion. 

The first half of this discussion explores Rabbi Schneier’s beliefs regarding Judaism, equality and civil rights. In the second half I challenge him on the tension I see between his beliefs that all people should be equal and deserve civil rights, and the governments he’s advising who evidently do not believe that. I also challenge him on whether he puts any pressure on these governments to improve their human rights record.

Also, apologies for the delayed release of this podcast, I was caught up in a disastrous ice storm that hit Texas, which knocked my power and water out for a week. I’ve made it through that on the other side safely, but many haven’t. Here’s my discussion with Rabbi Marc Schneier.

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