Yale SOM’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute (CELI) played host on November 15 to the first public dialogue between a senior Arab government official and a senior Israeli government official since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.
Yousef Al Otaiba, United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the U.S., and Michael Herzog, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., appearing virtually, were the featured speakers at the forum in Edward P. Evans Hall’s Zhang Auditorium. The event was moderated by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the founder and CEO of CELI as well as Yale SOM’s senior associate dean for leadership studies and the Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management.
The discussion also included virtual appearances from Ambassador Dennis Ross, former Mideast envoy in the Obama administration, and Jared Kushner, who as senior advisor to President Donald Trump oversaw the process that led to the Abraham Accords in 2020. Palestinian delegates to the United Nations were invited but did not reply. Clergy members Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of Masjid Al-Farah in New York City and Rabbi Herbert Brockman of Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden, Connecticut, provided an inter-faith invocation.
The Chief Executive Leadership Institute convenes frank discussions for top executives and other decision makers in the worlds of politics and business. In addition to CELI’s recurring executive programs, Sonnenfeld has recently hosted on-campus discussions of the war in Ukraine with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya.
Around 80 Yale faculty members, including 20 theologians, staff members, and over 500 students attended the November 15 discussion. Faculty members from anthropology, architecture, philosophy, political science, law, medicine, and the School of Management were joined by a dozen prominent New Haven clergy members to debrief the lessons from the panel exchange in a lively luncheon discussion that immediately followed the talk.
“This is an amazing dialogue between these two officials and speaks to their personal courage,” Sonnenfeld said in opening remarks, which were followed by prayer and a call for renewed and open dialogue from the clergy members.
The need for dialogue was endorsed by the speakers as the only means to a peaceful resolution, underpinned by trust. The candid, respectful exchanges between the speakers and the students, including those from Palestine, UAE, Kuwait, Israel, Poland, the U.S., and China, modeled such a spirit of meaningful discourse, according to Sonnenfeld.
Speakers decried the loss of civilian life on both sides of the conflict as well as the kidnapping and torture of civilians. The speakers also addressed the question of whether the two-state solution is still a viable path to peace and discussed steps, including the condemnation of Hamas, that would be necessary to move forward.
The lead speakers drew upon expertise gained from the forging of the historic Abraham Accords, which brought peace and economic collaboration between the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Israel similar to earlier agreements between Israel and Jordan and Egypt. Details were shared on the 190 projects and $50 billion of immediate economic assistance to Gaza and the West Bank planned in those accords.
After the event, Sonnenfeld said that he hoped it could serve as a model of productive discussion of a contentious issue. “I am so proud that Yale could show how a campus community—across student, faculty, and staff identities—can confront ideological, religious, cultural, and diplomatic differences openly, with expertise, facts, understanding, tolerance, and compassion,” said Sonnenfeld. “The rich and honest discussion showed that, for every difference, there are also commonalities that bond the disparate peoples of the Middle East together. It is those commonalities rather than the differences that will prove paramount to any lasting peace—but only if there is the political willpower among the region’s leaders to prove that peaceful coexistence between Jews and Muslims and between Israelis, Palestinians, and Arab neighbors is not just an ‘impossible dream.’”