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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bahrain's Jewish Ambassador

(Blogger's Note: Please scroll down to the section "Bahrain’s Jewish Ambassador" of this article.)

Consider the case of Houda Ezra Nonoo, who in July presented her credentials to President George W. Bush as Bahrain’s ambassador to the U.S., making her the first Jew to represent an Arab country in Washington, DC.

In her first interview, with the Dec. 4, 2008 issue of Washington Jewish Week, Ambassador Nonoo explained: “Bahrain is an open and tolerant society and it doesn’t matter what religion you are. I’m Jewish, but I’m also Bahraini. My grandfather served on the Municipality Council as early as 1934, so we’ve always been integrated into society.”

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, as many as 1,500 Jews lived and prospered in Bahrain. “Things changed in 1948,” according to Washington Jewish Week, “with the establishment of the state of Israel. Riots erupted, the sole synagogue was closed and most of Bahrain’s Jews emigrated, leaving for Great Britain...Currently, about 35 Jews live among Bahrain’s 700,000 inhabitants. This is a constant source of pride for Bahraini officials...In November, King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, during a meeting in New York, beseeched about 50 Bahraini Jewish expatriates to consider returning home—a move relatively unheard of in the rest of the Arab world.”

“This was something I never expected in my life,” Nonoo said, “to be ambassador in the United States. I think I’ve made a big impact on a lot of people, being female and representing Bahrain in the most important country in the world.” Her reception by fellow Arab diplomats in Washington has been incredibly warm, she reported: “The Syrian ambassador recently hosted a dinner to honor me. The Iraqi ambassador had one...and Oman is having one. They’ve really made me feel at home.”

On Yom Kippur, Nonoo attended Orthodox services. She may not, however, have any relationship with the Embassy of Israel, because Bahrain and Israel do not have diplomatic relations. “Understand that Israel and Judaism are two different things,” she stated. “I’ve never felt any discrimination or anti-Semitism. My father was a very well-known figure. When he died in 1993 in a car accident, the amount of people who came to offer condolences—including the emir, the prime minister and the emir’s other brother—was amazing. They all showed us respect.”

The idea that there has been an ancient enmity between Jews and Muslims is completely ahistorical, and those Jewish groups and individuals who promote such a view seem to be unaware of the long history of cooperation between the two religions. Much has been written In recent years about the Golden Age of Jews in Muslim Spain. Indeed, when Muslim rule came to an end and the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492, they were welcomed into the Ottoman Empire. The anti-Semitism which plagued medieval Christian Europe was not to be found in the Islamic world.

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