Bahrain Jewish community welcomes normalization: ‘A historic moment’

Kingdom is home to small number of Jews, mostly of Iraqi origin; leader says deal with Israel was ‘never expected in our lifetime’

Worshipers, including Trump administration Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt (2nd left) attend morning prayers at synagogue in Manama, Bahrain, June 26, 2019 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)
Worshipers, including Trump administration Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt (2nd left) attend morning prayers at synagogue in Manama, Bahrain, June 26, 2019 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Bahrain’s Jewish community welcomed what is said was the kingdom’s historic and unexpected normalization agreement with Israel on Friday.

“This is a historic moment that we have never expected to see in our lifetime,” the head of Bahrain’s Jewish community, Ebrahim Dahood Nonoo, said in a statement.

The statement thanked Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Salman al-Khalifa, “for having the foresight to go ahead with this decision and his belief in co-existence and his faith and ability to break down the barriers that restrict cohabitation,” the statement said. “We look forward to a prosperous relationship benefiting both countries.”

US President Donald Trump announced the agreement on Friday, making Bahrain the second Gulf country to establish open ties with Israel in less than a month.

A joint statement released by the White House said Bahrain’s king spoke earlier in the day with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “and agreed to the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain.”

Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced they were normalizing relations on August 13, and a signing ceremony for their accord is being held at the White House on September 15. Bahrain will now join that ceremony, with its foreign minister Abdullatif Al Zayani and Netanyahu signing “a historic Declaration of Peace,” the joint statement said.

Bahrain has long been tolerant of all religions, but for a long time, there was no public Jewish life in the kingdom, until recently.

Jews, mostly of Iraqi origin, have been living in Bahrain since the 1880s, which is why the country claims to be home to the Gulf’s only indigenous Jewish community. For the last decade there has been an active congregation in Dubai, but it consists exclusively of expatriates.

In the early 1900s, the Bahrain Jewish community established a relatively large cemetery, which is still in use today.

In its heyday, the community numbered some 1,500 members. But in 1947, in the wake of the United Nations resolution proposing the creation of a Jewish state in Mandate Palestine, its synagogue was ransacked — though nobody was killed — and the community started to dwindle.

The synagogue was renovated in the late 1990s, but today there are only some 34 Jews left in Bahrain.

Despite its small number, the community punches above its weight in terms of societal standing, with one member serving in Bahrain’s parliament, and another who served as the kingdom’s ambassador in Washington from 2008 to 2013.

The UAE’s small Jewish community welcomed its country’s agreement with Israel last month, praising the Arab Gulf state for its pluralism and religious tolerance, and calling for Israelis to visit and invest in the country.

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