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If I forget thee? Bahrain claims its minister’s Jerusalem talks were in Tel Aviv

FM al-Zayani spent 12 hours in Israel’s capital on Wednesday without uttering its name; his ministry also omitted any mention of the city, falsely reporting on talks in Tel Aviv

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani speaks during a press conference with the US Secretary of State and Prime Minister Netanyahu after their trilateral meeting in Jerusalem, November 18, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool/Flash90)
Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani speaks during a press conference with the US Secretary of State and Prime Minister Netanyahu after their trilateral meeting in Jerusalem, November 18, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool/Flash90)

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani spent nearly 12 hours in Jerusalem on Wednesday, hailing the new friendship between his country and Israel in several meetings at various locations throughout the capital. But somehow he appeared to manage to go the whole day without publicly mentioning the name of the city he was in.

Indeed, those who listened to his speeches and read readouts of his meetings on official Bahraini websites — in both English and Arabic — would actually be forgiven for thinking he spent the day in Tel Aviv, a city in which he did not set foot.

The websites of the Foreign Ministry in Manama and the state-owned Bahrain News Agency each ran five items about the trip — none of which mention that it took place in Jerusalem. Indeed both sites, which publish the same articles, went so far as to falsely state that al-Zayani’s sit-down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Tel Aviv, when it took place in Jerusalem.

The Bahraini Foreign Ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

FM Ashkenazi, left, welcomes Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani to Israel, at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv, November 18, 2020 (Miri Shimonovich/MFA)

“Time has come to depart from the conflicts and instability that afflicted the Middle East for decades and pursue other policies to reach a comprehensive solution that achieves prosperity and development for all, Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani has said,” a text on the ministry website read. “Al Zayani made the statement as an official Bahraini delegation arrived in Tel Aviv on the first visit of its kind to Israel.”

The Bahraini diplomat landed at Ben Gurion Airport, near Lod outside Tel Aviv, where he was welcomed by his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi. After a brief elbow bump and a few photos with a Gulf Air Dreamliner in the background, Al-Zayani headed to the capital for his first meeting, which took place at the Foreign Ministry.

“Al Zayani has conveyed to his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi Bahrain’s approval of the request by Tel Aviv to open an embassy in Manama,” the Bahrain Foreign Ministry’s readout of their conversation stated.

People who use “Tel Aviv” as a synecdoche for Israel usually seek to imply that the coastal city is Israel’s capital, as opposed to Jerusalem.

Screen capture of a report describing Bahrain’s foreign minister’s visit to Israel, which implies that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital, on the website of Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry. The meeting between al-Zayani and Ashkenazi took place in Jerusalem.

Ashkenazi and Al-Zayani announced during their meeting the two countries’ intention to soon open reciprocal embassies.

While Ashkenazi said Israel wants to open its mission in Manama, Al-Zayani did not specify in which Israeli city its embassy would be located.

After his meetings at the Foreign Ministry, Al-Zayani headed to the official residence of President Reuven Rivlin, which is located on the capital’s HaNassi Street.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on November 18, 2020. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

“Welcome to Israel, welcome to Jerusalem,” the Israeli head of state told his prominent guest, according to a readout provided by Rivlin’s office. “The whole world should come and see the flags of Israel and Bahrain, flying together today — here at the President’s Residence and in the streets of Jerusalem.”

The website of the Bahrain foreign ministry, however, noted that the meeting with Rivlin occurred “on the occasion of [al-Zayani’s] visit to Tel Aviv.”

The minister’s next stop was Netanyahu’s official residence on Balfour Street, where they were joined by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. According to the Bahraini Foreign Ministry, al-Zayani “underscored [the] keenness of the Kingdom of Bahrain on committing to peace… during a meeting in Tel Aviv” with Netanyahu.

Screen capture of a report on the Bahraini foreign minister’s visit to Israel, which falsely says he met Prime Minister Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, rather than in Jerusalem, posted on the Bahrain Foreign Ministry website

“Secretary of State Pompeo, my dear friend Mike, it’s always a pleasure to see you in Jerusalem. Foreign Minister Dr. Al-Zayani, it’s a pleasure to see you again, and it’s a tremendous pleasure to welcome you for the first time ever in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of a joint statement the three men made at the top of their meeting.

“It’s great to be back in Jerusalem, as always, the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland,” Pompeo said, standing next to Netanyahu and Al-Zayani.

The Bahraini foreign minister avoided naming the city in which he was speaking. Instead, he spoke of his “visit to Israel.”

US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani at the start of their trilateral meeting in Jerusalem, November 18, 2020. Assistant Secretary for Near-Eastern Affairs David Schenker and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman also attended the meeting. (Ron Przysucha/US Department of State)

Later on Wednesday evening, the three leaders and other officials from their respective countries gathered for a summit to discuss various issues on the agenda.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain and the State of Israel have agreed to start operating… commercial flights and initiate procedures to open embassies, based on the Memorandum of Understanding concluded between the two countries for cooperation in the field of air services,” the Bahraini Foreign Ministry stated.

“The steps were announced during the trilateral session of talks which was held in Tel Aviv.”

In fact, the talks took place at the King David Hotel, in Jerusalem.

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