​Knesset Diaspora Affairs Committee Holds Virtual Meeting With Leaders of Bahrain’s Jewish Community

YERUSHALAYIM -
The flags of the U.S., United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahrain are seen in the city of Netanya. (Flash90)

Following the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and Bahrain, members of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs held a Zoom meeting on Tuesday with leaders of the Gulf state. The meeting was made possible due to the connections of Jewish Agency Chairman Yitzchak Herzog with the Jewish leaders.

Acting Committee Chairperson MK Michal Wunsh (Blue and White) noted that the 50 Jews in Bahrain arrived from Iraq, Yemen and Iran. Jews have lived in Bahrain for more than 140 years. The first Jews in Bahrain, who arrived from Iraq, were uneducated and poor. Jews have found success in the local garment industry, she said, adding that at its largest, the Jewish community numbered 1,500 members. In 1935, a synagogue was built in Bahrain, but it was destroyed following the U.N. vote on the Partition Plan in 1947. Today, the synagogue in the capital Manama operates mainly during the chagim. The local Jewish community also has its own cemetery. The Jewish community in Bahrain is getting older, as many of the younger members leave to study abroad and often never return to live in Bahrain.

The meeting was held with the participation of Ebrahim Daoud Nonoo, who was the first Jew to be appointed to the Shura Council, Bahrain’s upper chamber of parliament, in 2001; Nancy Khedouri, a Jewish Bahraini politician, businesswoman and writer who has been a member of the Bahraini National Assembly since 2010; and Houda Nonoo, a Jewish-Bahraini businesswoman and diplomat who served as Bahrain’s ambassador to the United States in the years 2008-2013.

The members of the Bahraini Jewish community noted that they view themselves first as Bahrainis, and then as Jews. They said Jews that have left Bahrain all left willingly, and they were never persecuted by the authorities. Life there has always been conducted with tolerance. They have access to kosher food and they are not afraid to affix mezuzos to their doorposts. The Jewish community leaders said they expressed hope that Israelis will visit Bahrain following the signing of the Abraham Accords.

Minister of Diaspora Affairs MK Omer Yankelevitch (Blue and White) promised that the ministry would expand the cooperation with the Jewish community in Bahrain. She said lessons from the history of Jews in Bahrain should be learned, and mentioned the local Jews’ good relations with the Bahraini people. “The Abraham Accords allowed us to open relations with our brothers in Arab countries – in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain,” she said. “The Jewish community in Bahrain has an opportunity to deepen its relations with Israel.”

Jewish Agency Chairman Yitzchak Herzog said, “This is a historic meeting. I am not certain that people are aware of the effect of the Abraham Accords, as Netanyahu and Trump promised.” He noted that the director general of the Jewish Agency is currently holding meetings in Abu Dhabi with leaders of the Jewish community in the United Arab Emirates.

At the end of the meeting, MK Wunsh addressed the Jewish community leaders in Bahrain and said: “Send to us anything you can offer the country [Israel] or any request you may have.” Wunsh also wished a speedy recovery to Committee Chairman MK David Bitan, who contracted the coronavirus.