The left and the news media largely have ignored the Trump administration’s role in negotiating the recent peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
The Abraham Accord, announced Aug. 13, normalizes relations between the Jewish state and the UAE. Helen Raleigh, policy fellow at the Centennial Institute and a senior contributor at The Federalist, calls the agreement a historic achievement.
Raleigh joins the podcast to explain how the Israel-UAE accord could affect diplomatic relations in the Middle East for years to come, and why the mainstream media has chosen to ignore its significance. She also discusses how the Chinese Communist Party strategically spreads propaganda on American college campuses.
Plus, we read your letters to the editor and share a good news story about a nonprofit that converted its parking lot into an outdoor learning center and tutoring hub for children who are distance learning this fall.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am joined by Helen Raleigh, policy fellow at the Centennial Institute and a senior contributor at The Federalist. Helen, thank you so much for being here.
Helen Raleigh: Thank you for having me.
Allen: You recently wrote a piece for The Federalist entitled, “What Corporate Media Won’t Tell You About Trump’s Historic Middle East Peace Deal.” And on Aug. 13, Israel and the United Arab Emirates established diplomatic ties through the Abraham Accord.
First, can you just explain what this means that Israel and the United Arab Emirates have established this peace deal and what has actually changed now about their relationship?
Raleigh: Thank you for that question. This is a tremendously historical agreement. This is only the third agreement in Israel’s history that Israel has signed with an Arab country. The other two were 1979, Israel had signed a diplomatic agreement with Egypt, and in 1994, Israel signed a diplomatic agreement with Jordan. So, this one in August is the third one.
As we know, there has been a long history of Middle East conflict and Israel is surrounded by hostile nations that from Day One wanted to eliminate Israel from the planet Earth.
So, the fact that Israel is able to achieve a peace agreement with a Gulf Arab nation, the first Gulf Arab nation, which is the UAE, this August is just a tremendous achievement.
Basically, this accord will allow Israel and the UAE to exchange ambassadors, establish embassies, and also other opportunities for trades, corporations, health care, especially join the fight against the COVID pandemic, and will allow the two nations to establish transnational flights.
And it will set a template, which is really important. This agreement can set a template for Israel to achieve future peace treaties with other Gulf Arab nations. So, I cannot undermine the historical nature of this peace agreement from Israel and the UAE.
Allen: And what were the events that led up to the signing of this agreement?
Raleigh: There are a number of factors leading to the signing of this agreement. One of them is the joint of fear and the concern about the menaces by Iran.
As we know, Iran never stopped developing nuclear weapons. As a matter of fact, this June, Iran successfully tested several cruise missiles, both long-range and short-range, which shows Iran never abided by the nuclear agreement that is signed under the Obama administration with the EU nations. And this joint concern between both Israel and Arab nations about the growing menaces of Iran, that’s one key factor. Your enemy’s enemy is your friend, basically.
Another important factor really should go to the Trump administration. The Trump administration, President [Donald] Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, they really took a very unconventional approach.
As we know, almost every U.S. president before President Trump have taken on peace negotiation, tried to broke peace negotiations with Israel and Arab nations for decades to come, and no one has been successful.
So the expectation that a Trump administration would be successful is actually very, very low. Nobody thought his administration could have done it, but we have a very unconventional president and yes, Jared Kushner, that didn’t have a long history of a foreign policy experience. Maybe that’s actually played to the advantage.
So they took an unconventional approach last year, the administration rolled out to the Middle East the peace plan, really took an unconventional approach.
For example, they’re going to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital for Israel, but at same time, the administration [is] waiting to offer over 50 billion of economic incentives, aid package for the Palestinians to help them build their economy and promise over a million new jobs of Palestinians. So those are very unconventional approach[es].
So the peace deal, the administration offer last year really showed the commitment the administration is willing to do and just unconventional way approach to it, that helps too.
And believe it or not, another factor is the administration has taken a lot of effort to build this so-called Arab NATO, basically building close relationships with several Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to build our relationships and the cooperations in military and technology and economy. And those really helped. So those are three factors [that] really helped leading to this peace deal.
I should also mention that a lot of credit should also go to UAE. UAE launched a “Year of Tolerance” last year, the government in the UAE, really reaching out to interface communities—invite, for example, invite the pope to speak there. They built a new interface structure that will host representatives from all different religions, including Judaism.
So the UAE has also made a concrete effort toward this. So all of these factors combined leads to this historical agreement.
Allen: So explain just a little bit further how the Trump administration actually got Israel and the UAE to come to the table on this.
Raleigh: So, the Trump administration, couple of things, one, the administration shows it meant what it says, right? And either committed to declare Jerusalem is Israel’s undivided capital. It’s a very bold move.
They were heavily criticized, but guess what? [The] U.S., the Trump administration actually moved the U.S. Embassy to Israel, to Jerusalem, basically showed the administration meant what it says.
And also in this unconventional deal, basically the administration supported Israel to annex the West Bank in exchange for offering Palestinians $50 billion economic aid.
And then when the UAE stepped in, the UAE ambassador actually rolled an op-ed, basically saying in Israel’s newspaper, basically saying, “If you stop the annexation, then you open a door for peace.”
Then Jared Kushner jumped in. He really persuaded [Benjamin] Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, to say, “You need to stop annexation activity.” Which Netanyahu did and that really paved the way for [and] eventually lead to this peace deal.
So I think the deal really shows the pragmatism from all three parties, the UAE, the Israel, as well as the United States. I think the president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner’s unconventional approach, but also meant what they say through actions, really help push to make this deal happen.
Allen: You mentioned Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he’s not very popular among Israel’s media. What has been the Israeli media response to the deal?
Raleigh: It’s an understatement to say Netanyahu’s not popular with the media. He’s amazing. Last year, Israel had three inconclusive elections. He survived all of those. And he was under investigation for bribery and corruption. And everybody thought his political star just [had] failed, but he survived.
Not only that, Mr. Netanyahu is very committed to Israel sovereignty, annexation of land in West Bank. [That] just showed you how much as a politician he’s also so pragmatic that he’s waiting to make such a huge compromise in order to reach peace. So it shows that peace, to him, is more important than getting the land. And he’s waiting to take a stand.
So the Israel media, which you have much more gracious than American media, … at least they gave him some credit. They were really thrilled. They [said] this deal is like a good atom bomb. A good geopolitical earthquake. And they just … praise him for his brilliance and a huge breakthrough.
So yeah, Israel’s media, at least they gave him credit for what he has done because nobody thought this could happen.
Allen: But we’ve seen that the American media has given the Trump administration very, very little credit, which, I find sad, but frankly, not that surprising. How should the mainstream media be covering this agreement?
Raleigh: I think the mainstream media needs to go back to do what the media [is] supposed to do—presenting news and the facts objectively. Because we, you and I can both agree, I think the mainstream media would agree, had this been under a different administration, whether it’s Obama administration or Clinton, or even George W. Bush, there would be a call for giving him Nobel Prize, the Peace Prize for this huge deal, historical deal.
But the media [has] now join[ed] the resistance that they cannot possibly look at anything objectively. So anything associated with the name Trump, they just have to reject.
I mentioned in my article that even … this New York Times writer, Thomas Friedman, that you read his whole piece about this deal, that even though he himself calls it a huge breakthrough, … you can feel his agony, he avoided [giving] any credit to Trump or Kushner and Netanyahu.
So it’s just pathetic and sad and they’re not building their own credibility or even strengthening their credibility by [avoiding being objective.] … A good deal is a good deal, and we should acknowledge that even if it’s a good deal done by the Trump administration. We should accept that and then the media should report that.
Allen: So looking to the future, what’s next for the Middle East? Could this deal have potential to really impact the direction of the Middle East for years to come?
Raleigh: I really think so. Of course the Palestinians rejected the peace deal the Trump administration rolled out last year outright and they have rejected every single peace deal in the last eight decades. And every time they reject a peace deal their situation just got worse.
I think this deal between Israel and UAE basically demonstrates that there is a fatigue among the Arab nations that continue to support uncompromising Palestinians. So they really want the solutions.
So at the end of my piece I mentioned that I really think … this UAE-Israel peace deal [has] set a good template for other deals to come. And there are already signs some other nations might be in the pipeline.
For example, Netanyahu visited the Oman in 2018 and … last July [the] United States host[ed] a meeting in Washington between Bahrain and Israel. So I think for some nations they [are] probably going to follow the UAE’s lead. I think there’s going to be more to come.
Allen: I want to pivot just for a moment and talk about another nation that America is navigating relations with and that’s China. You recently wrote a fantastic piece for The Federalist entitled, “American Universities Are Now the Front Line of the China-US Cold War.” How is the Chinese Communist Party influencing universities and university students?
Raleigh: The Chinese Communist Party, which is a synonymous Chinese government because it’s a one-party state, has relied on three pillars to exert its oversea influence in American universities.
The three pillars are through Confucius Institutes, through the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, and it’s through direct financial donations.
Just use the Confucius Institute as an example. Confucius Institute is really a propaganda machine disguised as language centers, basically the university, whichever universities are willing to host the Confucius Institute, all they have to do just provide the land, the Chinese government will fully fund the buildings, the teaching material, even teachers, and the teachers are heavily vetted from China.
And they’re teaching mastered and what they teach, the teaching content, they strictly follow the Chinese Communist Party’s talking points. There are multiple goals. They want to present only [a] positive image about the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese history and … their presentation of Chinese history is very selective.
They also avoid talking about [what] the CCP [has] deemed as sensitive topics, such as the Cultural Revolution, the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the interment of the Uighurs in the last couple of years, the few other human rights violation, persecution of the Christians and other religious groups.
So if you enrolled in taking classes at the Confucius Institute, you’re thinking you’re learning about the true history or language or culture about China, [but you are] getting a selected version or through a rose glass, not a full version of what’s really happened in China.
And so it is very concerning and it’s come to a point that the schools, because American universities love … free deals, right? All they have to do [is] just provide the land. Everything else is supported by [the] Chinese government.
They even self-censor. For example, I mentioned in my piece in North Carolina University that they cancel[ed] the appearance of [the] Dalai Lama because the CCP considered [the] Dalai Lama … a traitor. The CCP denied it has taken a Tibet by force. So [it] is this kind of censorship.
So the existence of Confucius Institutes really hurts our American universities’ academic freedom and Americans’ free speech. That is why the State Department recently announced [it] is going to ask a Confucius Institute that you designate [your]self as a foreign agent, rather than an innocent language center.
So [that’s] just one example to show you. It’s not an innocent language center, it actually carr[ies] policy objectives for the CCP.
Allen: I just want to make sure I’m understanding how these Confucius Institutes end up on college campuses. Essentially, they approach a university and say, “We will give you money in order for us just to use your space on campus and host these courses,” so to speak. And the college oftentimes says, “Sure, come on.”
Raleigh: Yes. So basically, yeah. That’s exactly what happened.
So they will approach a university to say, “Hey, we are going to offer your students free Chinese language, culture, and history lessons. All you have to do [is] just … give us a space. We will even found a building. We will provide the teachers. We will provide the materials. You don’t have to do anything. We’re going to be fully managed by us.”
So for a university who doesn’t want to spend additional money, … well, [this is] like pie fall[ing] from the sky. That’s perfect, right? You don’t have to pay for anything. And also for awhile, learning Mandarin is very popular among college campuses. So this is like a free deal. Free for all. But it’s a really a sugarcoated poison pill.
Allen: But now America is starting to recognize actually what is going on. And it’s starting to ask these groups to either leave campuses, or how are they proceeding?
Raleigh: So basically there were a couple of organizations like the American Association of University Professors as well as National Association of Scholars have warned American universities to close down the Confucius Institute on their college campuses.
But many universities did not take their advice until last year, after the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a special clause basically … restricting Department [of] Defense language study fundings if a university hosts the Confucius Institute on campus.
So for the schools that want to continue to receive [the] Department of Defense’s funding for languages studies, they have to choose, right? Whether they want to fund these for [the] Department of Defense or they want to keep [the] Confucius Institute.
So as a result, money talks, so about 35 American colleges and universities closed the Confucius Institutes on their campuses today, but we still have about 80 or so Confucius Institutes on American university campuses. And then there are also a number of them in K-12 public schools.
Allen: And are you concerned that those Confucius Institutes that still exist in America are more or less a national security threat?
Raleigh: I think so. Unless they changed their approach, which I doubt it because … all the Confucius Institutes are fully funded by the Chinese government. And like I said, teachers are strictly vetted. They have to teach you what the Chinese government told them to. And so I don’t see … how [their] approach the truth will change.
For the universities that continue to host them, continue to let those institutes spread lies and untrue histories about the CCP, [they’re] basically supporting info warfare.
And … the United States and China are engaged in a cold war. We’re not approaching, we are in a cold war. So part of the cold war is fighting about ideas, information. For the university who continues to host [that] institute, they’re basically taking the side of the Chinese, the Chinese Communist Party side. And that is very dangerous.
Allen: Wow. Helen, thank you so much for breaking down these two large topics that are going on in the international world, on the international stage for us. We just really appreciate your time today.
Raleigh: Thank you for having me.