HomeMay 2024Yaara Segal

Yaara Segal

Yaara Segal

A fascinating conversation with one of the founders of the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi, and formerly one of the more prominent figures at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles. We talk about her family background, her childhood alongside leaders like Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, and the big question: will the peace agreements with the Gulf states hold up after the events of October 7th?

Yaara Segal has long since established herself in the City of Angels after a long- standing career in diplomacy that began in Los Angeles many moons ago, when she served as the Director of Public Diplomacy at the Israeli Consulate. Her work there turned out to be a mere launching post to several other impressive roles, perhaps the most prominent one being Chief of Staff to the Israeli Ambassador in the United Arab Emirates. Currently, she is the U.S. Director of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a leading policy-diplomacy and communications think tank, promoting Israeli interests around the world.
    Diplomacy seems to flow through Segal’s DNA, so it was surprising to no one when she entered the field, armed with passion, a natural inclination and numerous historic stories from her childhood. She grew up in Tiberias, a town in northern Israel, the daughter of prominent political and media figure Shia Segal, who was known for his work with high level politicians and businessmen, as well as his infamous temper.
    Segal the father was originally a senior journalist at the major Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv, and gained significant recognition when he was a correspondent in Egypt during the assassination of President Sadat. Segal obtained the impossible, an exclusive scoop with Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak. He was also entrusted with being the courier for the official statement in which Mubarak committed to the peace agreement with Israel. Another day, another footnote in history.
 

Segal at the EXPO 2020 Dubai opening

  It was no surprise then that Segal the daughter grew up in an environment steeped in politics and Zionism. After her father left journalism, her parents opened what became a prominent PR agency, focused on political strategizing. Subsequently, her childhood memories include eating ice cream on Saturdays with Minister David Levy, playing with her favorite wooden horse that former Chief of Staff of the IDF, Raphael Eitan (Raful) custom-made for her, and playing with the Spanish Mastiff puppy that the family was gifted by future Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Segal remembers writing him a letter thanking him for the special gift, signing off with the message: “I hope peace will come soon.”
    Segal describes the family relationship with Prime Minister Sharon as a special one, “All the years that Arik was in a coma, my dad behaved as if he had just ‘gone to sleep.’ My dad had a special phone that only Arik had the number to, and he still kept it on him all the years Arik was lying in the coma, just in case he woke up and called him. Unfortunately, the phone never rang again.”
Entering the World of Politics and Diplomacy
    After an intense and meaningful military service, which included combat duty on the border and being a part of the first female regiment ever in the Oketz canine unit, it was a natural transition when Segal started to work for the family business.
    She quickly stood out as a natural talent, not just as the ‘daughter of…’ and in a short time became head of the company’s public relations department. High profile clients included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I had the opportunity to be exposed to a lot of behind-the-scenes activities, and I learned a lot from my parents about strategic applications and managing media in the political world.”

At the Free Trade Agreement

    But Segal had international dreams of her own and when she was offered the opportunity to serve at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, she jumped at the chance. Working at the consulate, she told me, was a realization of many of her dreams. “I fell in love with the world of diplomacy. Every day at work was a day where I could influence what was happening here. A significant part of public diplomacy is identifying existing opportunities and creating new ones and developing relationships with key individuals and organizations in our region. I’ve met so many incredible people in the process.”
    After her tenure at the consulate, she returned to Israel to work with the Minister for Regional Cooperation, Ofir Akunis. Segal served as the Chief of Staff of the ministry’s Director-General. “Our role was to work with regional countries, with an emphasis on Arab states neighboring Israel, and to expand regional cooperation. I connected deeply with our work and was ecstatic to be part of improving the relations with our neighbors.”
    “On September 15th, 2020, the historic Abraham Accords were signed to normalize relations between Israel and several Arab countries: the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and later, Morocco and Sudan. As part of my work in the Ministry of Regional Cooperation, I accompanied the first visit of the Minister of Economy from Bahrain, as well as the first visit of the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates, Mohamed Al Khaja, to Israel. Every day something new was happening, it was incredible! And then my next opportunity, perhaps the most impactful one for me, arrived out of nowhere.”
    The Israeli Foreign Ministry had announced the appointment of Eitan Na’eh as the head of the Israeli mission in the United Arab Emirates, and Na’eh, who knew Segal from his temporary tenure in Los Angeles two years prior, offered her to join him to assist in establishing the mission in Abu Dhabi. Before she knew it, Segal was boarding a plane to the United Arab Emirates and she began the process of establishing the Israeli embassy.
    Segal lights up while speaking about the UAE. “It is the most exciting and unique country I’ve ever been to in my life. I first arrived in Abu Dhabi on June 6th, 2021. It was an experience I can’t even describe in words. We arrived without knowing what to expect and were welcomed with so much warmth and genuine kindness. Naturally, there was a lot of excitement and curiosity from both sides.
    Whenever I was out and had the opportunity, I was always happy to share with people that I was from Israel and working at the new embassy. And across the board, the reactions were always positive.”
    “Our work in the UAE was challenging in a great way, in the sense that we were there to build an embassy from scratch, and establish a relationship between the countries from the ground up. The team originally consisted of only three people along with the head of the mission and the security personnel. The early days had a lot of rapid adaptation, and we were deeply immersed in the ongoing operations it takes to establish an embassy. The days were hectic, and we were averaging 18-hour work days, sometimes even more. But honestly, I enjoyed every day and every moment.”
Life in the United Arab Emirates
    “The first thing that strikes you when you arrive in the United Arab Emirates is its unique character. It’s an extraordinary country with a population of around 9 million people, of which about 1.5 million are Emiratis. They’ve successfully combined preserving their tradition and respect for their founding leaders, with advanced thinking, openness, tolerance, and a lot of innovation.” Segal explains, “The secret of their success truly lies in the leadership of the United Arab Emirates, which first and foremost ensures the welfare of its citizens and residents–this is reflected in its economy, as well as the health and education that are provided for the public. The emphasis on the people’s welfare, as well as building up the young generation is felt everywhere.”
The Jewish Experience in the United Arab Emirates
    For many years, Jews in the United Arab Emirates practiced their religion modestly, holding gatherings and prayers in a villa that served as a synagogue. With the entrance of the Abraham Accords, things changed immediately. The Jewish population has grown in recent years from a few dozen to about 2,000 people. Today, you can already see various streams among the Jewish population residing in the Emirates–from secular to Orthodox–with different rising community leaders. Communities have begun to build Jewish infrastructure such as synagogues, kosher restaurants and supermarkets, primarily in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Segal expands: “The UAE is a model of tolerance for all religions, and they have ensured that Jews living in the country can feel safe, living openly and securely in their identity (ironically, sometimes even more so than they feel in certain Western cities). One example: the local government promoted a unique mega-project called ‘the Abrahamic Family House,’ which opened in February 2023. It’s a unique complex in Abu Dhabi with three places of worship, one for each of the Abrahamic religions: a synagogue, a church, and a mosque, all promoting dialogue and tolerance between religions.”
Elad:  Do you remember your first thought when you arrived in Abu Dhabi?
Yaara: “I mostly remember having a lot of feelings. Feeling inspired and optimistic. The main recurring thought I had was how strange it was to feel so normal living there. It was natural right off the bat. One of my favorite things to do was to walk along the seaside promenade on a Friday evening and hear the muezzin in the background while Jewish and Israeli friends passed by wishing each other Shabbat Shalom. It’s truly a reality that surpassed my imagination and showed me what is really possible for us to have with our neighbors in the Middle East”.
    Segal lived in Abu Dhabi for a year and a half during which a series of historic events between the two countries occurred, including: the arrival of the first Israeli ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Amir Hayek, the first official visit by an Israeli public figure–then-Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, followed by a series of other senior officials, two presidential visits, two prime ministerial visits, and the visits of 18 other ministers, most of whom came to sign agreements between the countries.
    Under the leadership of Ambassador Hayek, Segal was part of the establishment of a temporary embassy, the establishment of a permanent embassy, the opening of the Israeli pavilion at ‘Expo 2020’ in Dubai, and historic official initiatives and events such as the signing of the Free Trade Agreement between the two countries, the first Holocaust Remembrance Day and the first Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers.
    “I really can’t emphasize enough how wonderful the Emirati people are. They are warm, humble, open, intelligent in an extraordinary way, with leaders we can all envy. I’ve been away for almost a year and a half, and I still miss it every day.”
Elad:  What is the future of the Abraham Accords following the recent Israel – Hamas war?
Yaara: “Reality is more complex than ever, but the Abraham Accords have proven themselves. Not a single country among those that signed the agreements–the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, or Morocco–has withdrawn. The United Arab Emirates has affirmed its commitment to the agreements twice since the start of the recent war with Hamas. This is extremely significant and important.
    A few weeks before October 7th, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that they were very close to normalization with Israel, and “getting closer every passing day.” After the events in October, the Saudis are now conditioning a return to talks on normalization with the establishment of a Palestinian state. But it is equally important to pay attention to what they are not saying. They are not saying that normalization with Israel is off the table, which is not a trivial thing.
    Today, Segal is promoting Israel as part of her role at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and working on other initiatives to counter the alarming uprising of antisemitism around the world. When I asked her what her next dream and goal is, after making it all the way from little Tiberias to the U.S and UAE, she replies:
    “My dream hasn’t changed much since I was about five years old. It always was and still is peace and security for the State of Israel and the wonderful people I belong to. Life has always taken me to the right places so that I can help my country in my own way. I hope I’ll always continue to do that.” 

Elad Massuri is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.

 

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