Jewish envoy to UAE gets opportunity to embrace culture, religion

DUBAI – From gender parity to religious tolerance, Canadian Ambassador to the UAE Marcy Grossman has a busy agenda from the embassy in Abu Dhabi.The Jewish civil servant arrived in Dubai as the consul-general in 2018, but within a year was promoted to ambassador, moving to the UAE capital. The timing could not have been more auspicious.“I don’t believe in chance, but I believe we are all in the right place at the right time, so I am sure that’s really why I’m here,” she says. A public servant of 30 years, she has spent the majority of her career in the US, including Miami and Denver, before returning to Ottawa in 2016 to work on Canada’s presence in the upcoming Dubai Expo, slated for 2020, though now postponed to 2021.It was seen as an unusual choice of posting by some around her, to choose a Muslim country that they perceived to not yet be open to the Jewish faith, but Grossman felt drawn to the UAE. “I felt Dubai was calling me; as if it would be the pinnacle of my career, even if at the time, I wasn’t sure what exactly that was.”Her first posting in the Middle East has been a whirlwind. One of only roughly seven female ambassadors in the UAE alongside around 100 men, she feels she has much to do for Canada – as a woman and a person of faith.“Two months into my arrival in Dubai, there was the story in Bloomberg about the secret synagogue coming out of the shadows, so not only did I know I was a female diplomat in a male-dominated environment, I had the opportunity to embrace my culture and religion, which was very exciting,” she says.She admits it was a liberating time. “It’s always a responsibility to be authentic to who you are and I’ve always had to manage my ‘Jewishness,’” she admits. But now, the country where many Jews once hid their religious identity, has now given them the opportunity to publicly embrace their faith.“With my name, everyone pretty much knew I was Jewish and I didn’t hide it, but of course I will be a little more open now,” she adds.During 2019, she witnessed the announcement that Abu Dhabi would be home to the Abrahamic Family House, comprising a synagogue, church and mosque in the grand complex, the pope made his first historic visit to the region, and the UAE was enveloped in a mantra of peace and tolerance.“By the time the Abraham Accords were announced, I had seen there was already a lot of relationship-building going on, especially through my involvement in the Jewish community,” she says. “I knew Israel had a presence at IRENA [the International Renewable Energy Agency], that Israeli business people were coming and at the government level, there were connections, so I always expected that this was going to lead to something, although, I was shocked like everyone else when it was announced. I think it was a very close-held decision.”More than the decision, she has been most surprised by the speed of progress, with the likes of high-level research collaboration in areas including AI and health, as well as foreign investment, plans for 28 flights a week between the two countries and a rapid influx of Jewish and Israeli tourists and business people. As Canada already has a large Jewish population and a close relationship with Israel, she says the trilateral relationship she can now help facilitate, feels close to her heart.
But one cause even closer to her heart is that of women’s empowerment and being an ambassador for Canada’s feminist foreign policy. The Abraham Accords brought that home even harder.“When we saw the delegations for the Abraham Accords, there were a lot of men,” she says. “There are still gaps in many places; military, politics, diplomacy, in every field. I lead from the prism of being a woman in a man’s world.”Though the UAE’s cabinet and government offices have far better gender parity than any other country in the Gulf, when it comes to diplomacy, Grossman is vastly outnumbered. She has female Canadian counterparts heading missions in Amman, Beirut, Washington, London and Paris, but this is not so representative of other nations. “I’m a bit of a novelty here,” she smiles.
While ministers such as Reem al Hashimi and Noura al Kaabi have made a strong statement on the international political stage for the UAE in terms of the importance they place on gender equality, there is still much to be done for gender parity around the world, says Grossman.“We’ve seen that boards with women are more successful in business, governments with more women have policies which better reflect the interests of women, and the same in diplomacy. There is more opportunity to get diverse opinions, to promote inclusion, and represent the other 50% of voices.”Most of all, she says it is critical for peace. “The more women involved in peacemaking, when they’re at the decision-making table, the more peace there is,” she says.Involving more women in major global accords such as the Abraham Accords, she says is critical for peace to endure.
“It’s with great personal pride that I’m here at this time. I feel the Abraham Accords are a bold step in diplomatic efforts to reaffirm peace in the whole region.”


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