Daily Israel Report

Bahrain's Jewish Ambassador Silent on Upheaval at Home

Bahrain's Jewish ambassador to the United States, Houda Ezra Nonoo, remains silent about her fellow citizens' calls to dismantle the government.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 2/23/2011, 2:29 PM / Last Update: 2/23/2011, 2:41 PM

courtesy of Embassy of Bah

Bahrain's Jewish ambassador to the United States, Houda Ezra Nonoo, has remained silent in the media about her fellow citizens' calls to dismantle the government and end the monarchy in her small nation. Numerous attempts by Israel National News to contact the ambassador were unsuccessful.

Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, and one third of its 700,000 residents are non-citizens.

Tens of thousands of protesters last week poured into the Pearl Roundabout in the capital city of Manama, demonstrating against the government. Violence by riot police resulted in the deaths of eight people. The security force was withdrawn as protesters renewed calls to bring down the government, and added demands to eliminate the centuries-old monarchy as well.

The granddaughter of Iraqi Jews who migrated to the Persian Gulf nation of some half a million citizens, Nonoo was the first Jew, and the first woman, to be appointed to her diplomatic position in 2008.

But Nonoo considers herself a Bahraini first, and a Jew second, describing herself as an “Arab Jew” descended from a grandfather who was elected to, and served on the 1934 municipal council. She has since told numerous reporters that headlines trumpeting her appointment as a PR move by the Sunni monarchy -- which she attributed to her work as a founding member of the Human Rights Watch Society -- upset her.

“I was outspoken, and that is what catapulted me into this position,” she told the Washington Post in an interview published shortly after she arrived in the U.S.”

Nonoo's predecessor, who was asked at the time whether there were Shi'ites upset with the move, told the newspaper, “We don't think about it in that way – Sunni, Christian or Jewish. You are a Bahraini first, and you should serve your country. Bahrain is that way.”

King Hamad Al Khalifa has clearly made efforts to reach out to his country's Jews, both internally and throughout the world. In media interviews on trips abroad, he openly encouraged the return of those who have left and in 2004 lifted the kingdom's boycott of Israeli products.

The majority of the population is Shi'ite, a group which has in the past week protested the Bahrain “way” of doing things.

Street protests which began more than a week ago have continued in the tiny island kingdom as Shi'ite demonstrators insist – as in Egypt and Tunisia -- that the nation move to an constitutional democracy. Opposition political party Al Wefaq, and others called for continued peaceful protest, encouraging demonstrators to march to Pearl Square.

The call resulted in a packed highway filled with miles of protesters, tens of thousands of people insisting on ousting their king and their government. If that happens, analysts say it is likely an Islamic-based government will take its place.

That could pose a threat to the 36 Jewish souls remaining in the country and the only functioning synagogue that still exists in the Persian Gulf. Nonoo, at least, has relatives in Israel, although she cannot be in direct contact due to the lack of diplomatic relations between the two nations. 

On the English-language website of the Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Judaism is not even listed. “Islam is the official religion of the Kingdom of Bahrain,” states the ministry. “However, followers of other religions enjoy freedom of worship.” Those listed include Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Baha'i Faith and Buddhism.

Although the kingdom does not maintain ties with Israel, Bahrain does have warm relations with the Palestinian Authority, which it recognizes as an independent nation. 

A news release on the site lauded the presentation of diplomatic credentials earlier this year by “Palestinian ambassador” Taha Muhammed Mahmood to Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa. The foreign minister welcomed Mahmood to his new position and wished him success in his diplomatic mission of “further enhancing friendship and cooperation ties between Bahrain and his nation.” The statement went on the say that the Palestinian ambassador and the newly-appointed ambassador of India had both “expressed delight to represent their countries...”