These days, diplomatic relations can start with an Instagram message.
That is how Ido Montaniez, Head of Culture, Sports and International Affairs at Tel Aviv University’s Student Union, started a relationship with his counterpart at the University of Dubai (UD).
When the Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arab countries were announced last year, Montaniez said he saw an opportunity to reach out to students in the Gulf countries.
This paved the way for a blossoming relationship, along with new connections and collaborative events. For example, in spring 2021, the two universities’ student unions co-hosted “UD-TAU Week,” offering five joint virtual events for their respective student bodies. TAU professors were matched with their UD counterparts for lectures, and cultural events for students included live cooking, discussions about daily Israeli and Emirati life, and more.
“Until recently, Israelis had few connections in the Middle East or the Arab world—it's a new era for TAU and the region,” says Montaniez. Ido Montaniez. Photo: Moshe Bedarshi
Peace through Water
While students are exploring ties, the TAU leadership is moving quickly to forge research alliances with UAE partners.
An agreement to establish a joint Israeli-Emirati Water Research Institute was signed in Abu Dhabi in the presence of TAU President Ariel Porat; TAU Vice Presidents Prof. Milette Shamir and Amos Elad; TAU Governor Dr. Michael Mirilashvili, CEO of Watergen and founder of the Moshe Mirilashvili Institute for Applied Water Studies at TAU; and senior UAE business executives and officials. The research will be carried out as part of wider commercial collaboration between Watergen and the Emirati company Baynunah.
“Thanks to the Abraham Accords,” said Dr. Mirilashvili at the signing ceremony, “we are able to cooperate with our Middle Eastern neighbors to solve one of the region’s most pressing problems—water scarcity—and help build peace and a common future.”
In another development, TAU’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, led by Prof. Uzi Rabi, launched the Gulf-Israel Policy Forum. Through it, academics, practitioners and members of civil society hold discussions—mostly online now but the plan is to engage in faculty and student exchange.
“The feeling that you have sources on the ground and can talk openly about issues in our region—this is what was previously missing in Middle Eastern studies,” Prof. Rabi says. “Now, all this has changed.”
Water and Mideast studies are just the start, says TAU Vice President Shamir. She notes that a number of cooperation agreements are currently being discussed between TAU and top UAE academic institutions in cyber, AI, smart cities and medicine.
By Rava Eleasari and Lindsey Zemler