Boycott Israel sign in Bethlehem
Boycott Israel sign in BethlehemMiriam Alster / Flash 90

A new group of Arab thinkers is urging its countries to engage with Israel.

The Arab Council for Regional Integration group held its first conference in London this week, The New York Times reported Wednesday. Anwar Sadat, the nephew of the late Egyptian president of the same name, was among those who attended the private event, which also included journalists, artists, politicians, diplomats and Quranic scholars.

The participants say that bad ties with Israel have hurt Arab nations’ economically and Palestinian efforts to build infrastructure.

“Arabs are the boycott’s first — and only — victims,” said Egyptian-British lawyer Eglal Gheita, according to The Times.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair addressed the conference video message. The conference was funded by American donors, according to The Times.

Organizer Mustafa el-Dessouki, the Egyptian managing editor of the Saudi-owned journal Majalla, said that Arab media and political leaders were encouraging hostility toward Jews and Israel.

But many Arabs, including in Lebanon, which is an enemy state of Israel, “actually want to connect with Israelis,” he said, according to The Times.

Arab states have long shunned Israel and it is common for leaders and mainstream media outlets to promote anti-Semitic rhetoric.

A coalition of Arab countries attacked Israel after it established its independence in 1948, and then again in 1967 and 1973. However, in recent years, Israel has been growing closer with the Gulf States, which share a goal of countering Iranian influence in the Middle East, though those closer relations have not yet translated into formal ties.

But the Palestinian representative in London slammed the meeting.

“They are playing into the hands of Netanyahu,” said Husam Zomlot, who previously served as the envoy to Washington.