The last thing I would have expected in Qatar was to hear Hebrew as I walked through the corridors of the Doha Convention Center. The next scene was no less bizarre, in a country where few Israelis and Jews visit: Rabbis with kippahs on their heads. The Israeli and Jewish presence seemed acceptable and even natural at the Doha Forum, which is organized by the United Nations Alliance for Civilizations.
Israelis are not only attending the conference, but also speaking. Israeli representatives from academia, civil society, human rights organizations and religious groups were all among those speaking at the conference.
I find it significant that Israelis were fully welcomed at the conference. Israel has the potential to be a natural part of the Middle East. It is not as hated as some Israelis believe. I saw Arab participants intrigued by the Jewish and Israeli presence, and curious to ask questions and learn about Judaism and Israel.
Such a relationship is important step toward an alliance of civilizations. These encounters create an opportunity for people to overcome the stereotypes.
The extreme right in Israel is so fixed in its ideology that Arabs will never accept Israel, that it fails to see that many Arabs are willing to do so. It is the occupation that they refuse to accept. Many right-wing academics absurdly claim that the occupation has nothing to do with Arab anger against Israel, and instead label any opposition to the occupation as anti-Semitism.
At the Alliance of Civilization conference in Doha, I saw what the future of the Middle East could look like: The desire to build a better future for our people can overcome the desire to dominate one another.