Five questions: Meet the Hebrew-speaking Emirati building bridges between Israel, UAE

Hamdan Alkindi may have been the first Emirati in recent history to speak the Hebrew language. But with the recent Israel-UAE peace deal leading to cultural exchange between the two countries, he says others are already following in his footsteps.

“There are a couple of Emiratis who speak fluent Hebrew and others are starting to learn Hebrew on online platforms,” Alkindi told Al Arabiya English in an interview.

Alkindi first began to learn Hebrew during his time working outside the UAE as a private banker in Switzerland.

“The first reason why I learned Hebrew is that it is a very old language…and I like to be very unique compared to others,” he said.

Alkindi has been interviewed in Hebrew on Israeli television programs and speaks the language in meetings with Alex Peterfreund, his Jewish partner in their newly founded business AC Partners.

Skyline of Dubai, left, and Jerusalem, right. (AFP)

Skyline of Dubai, left, and Jerusalem, right. (AFP)

Dubai-based AC Partners - which stands for Abraham Consulting Partners, named after the father of the three Abrahamic monotheistic faiths - advises Israeli companies who want to enter the UAE market on how to set up business.

“We are bridging the differences. Between the two of us, we can balance the two cultures,” said Alkindi, who is from the UAE capital city Abu Dhabi.

‘Perfect match’

Alkindi met his Jewish business partner Peterfreund one day after the UAE and Israel announced a normalization agreement on August 13.

Alex Peterfreund, left, and Hamdan Alkindi, right. (Supplied)

Alex Peterfreund, left, and Hamdan Alkindi, right. (Supplied)

Originally from Belgium, Peterfreund is co-founder of the Jewish Community of the Emirates and works in the diamond industry.

“After our first conversation I said, ‘this is a perfect match,’” Peterfreund told Al Arabiya English in an interview, adding that their business has since taken off ever since.

The two businessmen say they have been extremely busy, hosting daily Zoom calls with Israeli clients about business across all industries in the UAE, including high-tech and agriculture.

When Alkindi speaks Hebrew during meetings with Israeli professionals, the mood changes, according to Peterfreund.

“Israelis get emotional when they hear Hamdan speaking Hebrew in meetings, when they hear an Emirati talk their language,” said Peterfreund.

‘The easiest part is business’

Alkindi and Peterfreund are both members of the UAE-Israel Business Council – a nonprofit organization founded after last month’s announcement of normalization – that aims to build bilateral business relations, which had previously been difficult and inefficient.

A general view of Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) among high-rise towers in Dubai. (Reuters)

A general view of Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) among high-rise towers in Dubai. (Reuters)

So far 250 Israeli companies are trading with UAE companies, according to the council.

But the peace between the UAE and Israel goes beyond business, according to Alkindi and Peterfreund.

“Business is always opening doors for human relationships. The result of a business relationship is much more than just business,” said Peterfreund.

While Alkindi expects the UAE’s tourism and real estate sectors to particularly benefit from normalization with Israel, he also said that the peace is deeply personal.

Tourists take photos with camels on the beach at Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, July 17, 2019. (AP)

Tourists take photos with camels on the beach at Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, July 17, 2019. (AP)

“The peace is not only peace between leaders and countries,” Alkindi said.

“We are now seeing the peace between people, with Israelis coming here [to the UAE]. We are talking together, having lunch and dinner together,” he said.

“I think it’s only a matter of time that this life will be normal,” he added.

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This is part of Al Arabiya English's new five by five series featuring interviews with experts, policymakers and academics .

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Last Update: Tuesday, 06 October 2020 KSA 16:06 - GMT 13:06
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