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Let Dubai's deckchairs stay empty this year

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November 24, 2016 23:20

'The best service I've ever had", was how my friend put it. And he wasn't talking about Rosh Hashanah morning in synagogue. It was that increasingly familiar description of the high standards on offer in Dubai's glitzy hotels. It could have been Abu Dhabi. Or Qatar. On the sands of the Gulf, the sky is the limit and, apparently, everyone is just falling over themselves to bring you everything you need, should you need anything at all.

My friend was rather pleased with himself, labouring under that well-crafted illusion that such service reflects the traveller's good taste, rather than the workers' desperation. And, on the face of it, his pleasure was understandable. At this time of year when night comes ever earlier and so, it seems, does the Christmas schmaltz, many of us become convinced we deserve a winter break. A warm respite from the seasonal delights of managing home deliveries, taking clothes back to Brent Cross and trying to pay for parking on apps which don't work. What's not to like?

The answer is an awful lot, especially if you are Jewish or gay or a woman, or want to live in a world that is pluralistic and enlightened. The UAE remains a cauldron of institutionalised hatred of Israel and casual antisemitism. Israeli citizens cannot enter at all on their national passports. Outward symbols of Judaism are unlawful. The travel guides advise hiding Stars of David and not showing "obvious signs" of being Jewish. So eat your bagels quietly and try not to fail at basic DIY. But know that this cannot just be written off as mere political opposition to Israel. Forcing Jews to conceal their identity is the consequence of laws closer to the Third Reich than the First World. It reflects underlying sentiments. As Tanya Gold once put it in the Guardian: "UAE newspapers think all Jews look like Harvey Weinstein crossed with Shrek".

This is not just a cautionary tale for Jews. Thousands of Indian slaves that have built the state from the ground up rarely achieve citizenship if they are non-Muslim. Women are told that they should cover up and protect their modesty, unless they're in a Western enclave where they can hypocritically sample the freedoms denied to locals.

Being gay can get you 10 years in jail. So can heterosexual activity. Last year, Rebecca Blake, 30, of Surrey was sent to a hellish Dubai prison for 41 days, accused (wrongly) of having sex outside marriage. She could have faced the death penalty for adultery if officials had known that she was actually married to another man. Firing squad is the usual method.

This is a glitzy world with a dark underbelly and such hatred of the other

This is a world with a dark underbelly: hatred of the other, greed and exploitation. Servitude with a smile. And so it is regrettable that increasing numbers of us are prepared to overlook these iniquities in order to get a five-star vacation at package-holiday prices. Those who head to hostile states increase the legitimacy of a world which hates who we are and forces us to hide it.

Happy holidays - but first cover up your womanhood, your sexuality and your identity. It conveys a message to those countries that we are too weak, too passive to care what they think of us and it implies to our families and friends that we are content with this. That we prefer to chase fake luxury over countries that are open and tolerant and free.

All our decisions influence others around us, carrying a cumulative power and exponential force when they become a communal movement. How much more elevating to take a moral stand against these places.

If there was someone standing in a room pouring out antisemitic or homophobic abuse, one wouldn't give him money or enhance his credibility. There is no sound basis for treating countries differently.

In any event, the choice is not between a vacation to the Gulf or no vacation at all. There normally remains the possibility of exercising one's recreational choices to go elsewhere. The obvious place for all freedom-lovers should be Israel, with an increasingly grown-up tourism infrastructure, the finest cultural sites on Earth and some of the best restaurants and bars to boot. What's more, you won't be thrown into jail for wearing a Star of David, eating a bacon sandwich or holding hands with your same-sex partner. Some people I know enjoy all three at once.

So, before you buy your tickets this winter to a land where you can't light Shabbat candles or carry an Israeli passport, keep in mind that even though it may not be as glamorous - and even though the service might fall short in places - it's the same warm sunshine that shines on Eilat.

And the people serving you breakfast probably don't hate you.

November 24, 2016 23:20

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