In a Landscape Of Tension, Bahrain Embraces Its Jews. All 36 Of Them.

April 5, 2009

Author: Michael Slackman

Source: The New York Times

It’s O.K. to be Jewish in Bahrain.

Actually, that may be an understatement.

“It’s fashionable,” said Rouben Rouben, 55, an electronics dealer who proudly displays his name, a recognizably Jewish one, on the sign above all four of his shops in Manama, the capital.

In the tense landscape of the Middle East, there is little room left for Jewish Arabs, a tiny minority in this country as well as in places like Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. But in Bahrain, the king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, has taken unprecedented steps for an Arab leader to show his support for his dwindling Jewish population. Last year, he appointed a Jewish woman, Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, as ambassador to the United States, the first Jewish ambassador posted abroad by any Arab country.

Then he made a personal visit to London to appeal to expatriate Jews to return to Bahrain. He has also appointed Jewish business leaders to the Shura Council, which acts as an upper house of Parliament. Those measures went against the tide in a region where anti-Semitism is often preached from government-controlled mosques and hating all Jews has become interchangeable with hating the state of Israel.

“The fact that Bahrain has a Jewish community that is in the open and still plays a role in that society is significant and an important symbol for the region,” said Jason F. Isaacson, director of government and international affairs for the American Jewish Committee.