Israel’s Religious Cover for Zionist Expansion in the UAE


The Zionist regime is in dire need of forming socio-cultural relations with other countries in its region as part of its larger “outside-in” strategy seeking to stifle the Palestinian cause by cutting it off from “outside” Arab regional support. It pursues this objective as one of its most important foreign policy programs, enabling it to gain legitimacy and access regional resources. The Israeli Foreign Ministry and Israel’s public diplomacy teams are at the forefront of the project, with Tel Aviv’s intelligence and security agencies providing covert support. Institutions such as the recently inaugurated UAE-Israel Business Council (UIBC) and the Sharaka Institute have spearheaded such efforts.
Nonetheless, before official political ties allowed the establishment of such institutions as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords, Israel – specifically through its Ministry of Diaspora Affairs – relied heavily on the expansion of informal Zionist religious and trade communities as a precursor to formal political recognition in the country. Interestingly, the emergence of these groups in the last decade has been parallel to reports of secret Israeli-Gulf relations prior to the Abraham Accords. Despite seeking to stay silent on matters of political importance, the aforementioned groups possess far reaching Zionist and Israeli connections and effectively operate as a soft-diplomacy hand of the Zionist government.
This model was quite overtly carried out in the United Arab Emirates and, to a lesser extent, Bahrain.

Ross Kriel, UAE’s Dethroned Rabbi

The UAE’s emerging Zionist communities, the most prominent of which are the Hasidic Jewish UAE organization and its affiliated Jewish Community Center of Dubai (JCC), have interestingly sidelined the decade-old “Jewish Community of the Emirates” (JCE) led by Rabbi Ross Kriel, leading to disputes among them. Rabbi Levi Dutchman, who defected from Kriel, now runs his own synagogue and is enjoying funds from a mysterious businessman named Naum Koen.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog (bottom row 2nd to the right) meets representatives of the Jewish community in the UAE, Janaury 30, 2022. Rabbi Duchman and Kriel can be seen standing in top row, respectively 2nd to the right and far left. Other recently UAE-based Zionist Jewish activists in the picture include: Yifat Turbiner, Steve Benchimol, Rabbi Eli Abadi, Daniel Seal and Sarah Benchimol.

Kriel, himself a well-connected Zionist, nonetheless continues to operate his Modern Orthodox synagogue in the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.

Kriel, left, hosts former Zio-philic Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at his Dubai synagogue known as ‘the villa,’ April 2019.

Upon the visit of Israel’s then-National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat to the UAE in 2020, Kriel told him: “We’ve waited for you for a long time”.1

JCE-affiliated leaders from left to right: Rabbi Bruce Lustig, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, Eric Fingerhut and Ross Kriel, at the White House Abraham Accords ceremony, September 15, 2020.

Naum Koen

Both the Jewish UAE and its affiliated Jewish Community Center of Dubai (JCC), who sidelined Kriel’s earlier Zionist mission in the UAE, are funded by Naum Koen, also known as Nahshon ‘Norik’ Nahshonov. Koen is a controversial figure – even among Israeli and UAE-based Jews– for his secretive business boom and unexplained wealth. Many UAE-based Jews believe he has given them more-than-needed media exposure in an effort to establish himself as the main Israel-connected merchant among UAE elite.

Naum Koen standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Koen has considerable economic and political interests in the UAE, going as far as seeking to broker a deal to sell a 50% share of Israel’s Beitar soccer team to a member of the UAE’s royal family.2 In recent years, Koen has been active in developing a number of projects in and around Dubai, including the world’s “first portable” Amber Palm mosque, and built at a cost of $1 million by one of his companies, Amber Palm Group, at the opulent Burj Al Arab Hotel.3

Naum Koen and Hamad bin Khalifa al Nahyan

The Jewish UAE

The Jewish UAE is a clearly Zionist mission, pioneering the expansion of emerging Jewish communities in the UAE. Its spiritual leader, Rabbi Levi Duchman, also known as Levi Teitlebaum, got an Orthodox certificate from Yitzhak Yosef, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel.4

Israeli Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, center, writes part of a Torah scroll at the Jewish community center in Dubai, Dec. 19, 2020. On left is Rabbi Levi Duchman.

Duchman has expanded operations in the UAE largely by branding it as a “religious community” pursuing “interfaith dialogue”. Nevertheless, an analysis of Duchman’s conduct and his open ties with Israel’s political elite point to complete coordination with Tel Aviv.

President Isaac Herzog (L) speaks with UAE Rabbi Levi Duchman in Abu Dhabi, January 30, 2022
Israel’s then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accompanies a symbolic writing of the first letter of a Torah scroll during a visit to Abu Dhabi, UAE, in 2021
Duchman speaking via Zoom with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the historic UAE-Israel peace deal, August 2020

Duchman’s activities have not been limited to the UAE, nevertheless. In 2016, Duchman prompted Arab media attention and irked Gulf authorities when he brought a group of Jewish businessmen to Bahrain, who were filmed singing songs about the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple at Manama’s historic Bab al-Bahrain building.

Rabbi Zalman Wolowik, center, with Rabbi Levi Duchman, the chief rabbi of Dubai, left, and Solly Wolf, president of the Dubai JCC at the White House Abraham Accords ceremony, September 15, 2020.

It is worth noting that Solly Wolf, president of the Jewish Community Center of Dubai is also the community president of the Jewish UAE.

Jewish Community Center of Dubai (JCC)

Solly Wolf, a Jewish businessman residing in the UAE, is the president and the more official face of the Jewish community center in Dubai (JCC). The JCC is affiliated to the broader “Jewish UAE” organization. Wolf has established deep connections with many members of the Emirati Royal Family, including Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in order to promote the emerging, yet still small, Zionist community in the UAE.

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayad Al-Nahyan with Jewish community leader Solly Wolf
Solly Wolf with the Dubai leader Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

On August 14, 2020, just a day after the Israel–United Arab Emirates normalization agreement, he said that he and the community were not surprised by the historic Abraham accords announcement in an interview with Israel’s channel 12.
“We were expecting it already. It was only a matter of time”, he said.
Further signaling his prior knowledge of Israel-UAE ties, Wolf added: “We know that in the last few years there have been a lot of connections between the UAE and Israel under the table.”5
Branding his activities as only “religious”, Wolf has conducted his soft promotion of Zionist interest in the UAE with full coordination with the Zionist regime, at times even with overt support of Israeli Government Arabic media outlets.6