Numerous public figures from the Arab world, representing 15 countries throughout the region, came together on Tuesday and Wednesday to reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, in addition to calling for greater direct civil relations between Israel and their countries, the London Jewish Chronicle reported. The conference included a declaration-signing ceremony, forming a group called the Arab Council for Regional Integration, which was followed by an extensive discussion on endemic issues in the Middle East, such as relations with Israel, regional economic cooperation and Islamic extremism. The delegates also discussed the lack of reconciliation between Egypt and Israel, and Jordan and Israel, since the signing in the “cold peace” treaties signed in the 1990s.Key figures at the event included Egyptian MP Mohammed Anwar Sadat, nephew of the late president Anwar Sadat, peacemaker with Israel who was assassinated in 1981; former Kuwaiti Minister of Information, Sami Abdul-Latif Al-Nisf; and two prominent Islamic religious figures, Hassen Chalghoumi, a Paris-based Tunisian cleric, and Lebanese imam Saleh Hamed.It was noted that the participants consisted of a diverse crowd, including youth, women, diplomats and artists, who believe in following a nuanced understanding of current issues in the Middle East, and the potential of achieving a constructive peace with Israel. Many of the speakers spoke about historical good relations
between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, and also called for Jews to return to Arab countries and work towards reconciliation. Mohammed Dajani,
a Palestinian academic who gained controversy in the Arab world for taking his students to visit Auschwitz, noted that stories of close Arab-Jewish interactions could be published by the new Arab Council, as a means for generating better relations.No Israelis attended the event, due to the fact that many participants could be prosecuted for having contact or relations with Israelis, which is a form of normalization. Dennis Ross, a lead negotiator during the Camp David talks in the early 2000s, said to the crowd that “you represent the voices who say enough. The more voices like yours who are prepared to speak out, the more you will build your voice [in talking] with Israel, and the more you will influence Israel’s leaders.”In regards to the BDS movement, the founding statement of the organization stated that the boycott “[stymies] hopes for peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples: prevented from engaging either of the two peoples directly, Arabs were unable to cultivate ties that could have enabled us to foster conciliation and compromise on both sides. In sum, the boycott increased the suffering of our societies and weakened our capacities.”The event was sponsored by the US-based Center for Peace Communications.