In wake of diplomatic ties, Jewish Agency to work on aiding community in Bahrain

Group’s chief Isaac Herzog speaks with local leader Ebrahim Nonoo, who asks for assistance with Jewish education and identity; estimates that community numbers around 50

Isaac Herzog at the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, February, 2020. (The Jewish Agency for Israel)
Isaac Herzog at the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, February, 2020. (The Jewish Agency for Israel)

Isaac Herzog, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, talked with the head of the Bahraini Jewish community on Saturday night to discuss providing assistance in developing communal life in Bahrain, in the wake of diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Manama.

Herzog spoke by phone with head of the Jewish community of Bahrain, Ebrahim Nonoo, the Jewish Agency said in a statement.

According to the statement, the two agreed that the Israeli quasi-governmental agency will collaborate with the Bahraini Jewish community to develop community life and provide additional services.

“I congratulate the leaders of Israel, Bahrain and the United States on the important agreement that will enable us to work together with the Bahraini Jewish community,” Herzog said in the statement. “I was happy to congratulate my friend of many years, Ebrahim Nonoo, who will soon be able to visit Israel freely with his family. The Jewish Agency can now support another Jewish community in the Middle East, just as we support all Jewish communities around the world.”

Nonoo in turn asked that the Agency provide him with tools to support Jewish education and “enhance Jewish identity and cultivate community life.”

Hergoz and Nonoo had already been in contact “for some time,” the statement said. Nonoo’s sister is a diplomat in the Bahrain Foreign Service who served as the country’s ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2013.

A team led by agency CEO Amira Ahronoviz is to be established in the coming days to work with the Bahraini Jewish community.

The agency estimated the Jewish community in Bahrain to be about 50 Jews, most of whom arrived from Iraq decades ago.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump announced that Israel and the tiny Gulf kingdom of Bahrain had agreed to normalize relations.

The move came on the heels of an announcement last month that the United Arab Emirates would establish full ties with Israel, bringing a long-covert relationship into the open.

After the UAE announcement the Jewish Agency swiftly said it would begin providing assistance for the UAE Jewish community. Estimates of how many Jews currently live in the UAE range from the low hundreds to 1,500, mostly foreign nationals who are in the country on business.

Bahrain as well had been seen moving closer to Israel in recent years, and last year hosted the rollout of the economic element of the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. At the time, a group of businessmen, reporters, rabbis and a senior White House official held a prayer service at the only officially declared synagogue in Bahrain.

The Bahrain synagogue, June 24, 2019 (Raphael Ahren/TOI)

Prayers are not held on a regular basis at the synagogue, which is usually closed even for holidays and opened only for special occasions. The building housing the synagogue is unmarked.

Bahrain is just the fourth Arab country to agree to establish official relations with Israel, after the UAE, Egypt and Jordan. Israeli and American officials have expressed hope that other Gulf Arab countries will soon follow suit, with relations based on mutual commercial and security interests, and their shared enmity toward Iran.

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