Israeli minister claims her 'I don't like' Dubai comment was just a joke

Israeli minister claims her 'I don't like' Dubai comment was just a joke
Miri Regev's disparaging comment on Dubai comes at a time of tension between the UAE and Israel's far-right government.
2 min read
22 March, 2023
Regev visited the UAE in 2018, stopping at Dubai and Abu Dhabi [Getty]

Israel's transport minister has claimed that her comment that she did not like Dubai was just a joke, amid a backdrop of tension between Israel and the UAE.

Miri Regev, from the governing Likud Party, visited the emirate in 2018 during a judoka tournament in neighbouring Abu Dhabi, the first-ever state visit by an Israeli minister.

Speaking about her experiences in the UAE, she shocked delegates at the Israel Lands Authority Conference in Tel Aviv that although she admired Dubai's roads she won't be returning for a visit to the glitzy tourist hub of the Gulf state.

"I've been to Dubai. I won't be going back. I don't like the place," she said. 

While insisting that the comment was a joke, Regev and her Likud colleagues made several attempts to mitigate the likely backlash from perhaps Israel's closest Arab ally with the transport minister making a desperate call to the UAE ambassador to Israel Mohammed Al-Khaja.

"Mohammed… thank you for the invitation. I will come to Dubai with you and, yes, and I am waiting for you, in Jerusalem, in my office," she said in a video posted on Twitter.

“[Al Khaja] understands what the media does not, or perhaps does but wants to remove remarks from their context... I got another invite to Dubai."

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, also from Likud, posted a picture of himself with UAE ruler Mohammed bin Zayed, with the comment: "I [heart] Dubai."

The UAE and Israel normalised ties in 2020, in a move replicated by three other Arab countries - Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. The two countries later signed a dizzying array of economic, cultural, and military deals.

While Israel and the UAE share common concerns about Iran, tensions increased after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to power last November at the head of a government which includes several notorious far-right figures.

The UAE cancelled a planned visit by Netanyahu after National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in January.

More recently, Abu Dhabi protested comments made by extreme-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, including a call to "wipe out" Hawara and a denial that the Palestinian people exist.