King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa of Bahrain
King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa of BahrainIsrael News Photo: (Paul Morse, The White House)

The King of Bahrain has called for expatriate Jews to return to the small Islamic island nation.

King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa expanded the invitation to all expatriate Bahrainis,  announcing during a recent visit to the United States that regardless of religious affiliation, any former citizen could return whenever they want.

“It’s open, it’s your country,” declared the king, who also extended a personal invitation to Washington D.C.-based Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rabbi Levi Shemtov to meet with him in New York during his visit.

The king had been in New York to attend last week’s Interfaith Conference, organized at the United Nations at the initiative of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah. Israeli President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were both present at the conference, along with representatives of more than 50 other nations.

According to the website, at the meeting Rabbi Shemtov bestowed the traditional blessing on the king that is recited when one sees a ruling monarch. A delegation of 50 Bahraini Jews who currently live in the U.S. stood for the blessing.

“I rise in honor of Your Majesty,” Rabbi Shemtov said to King Hamad, “and I humbly ask Your Majesty to rise in honor of the One G-d, the King of all Kings, in Whose Name we offer blessings.”

When the king rose, the rest of the room rose with him, and the rabbi thanked the Creator for “bestowing a part of His glory” on an earthly monarch.

“Bahrain has a rich Jewish history,” noted Shemtov, “and I feel that Bahrain, and particularly His Majesty, can play a unique role in bringing about positive movement within their arena in regard to the Jewish people and the world at large.”

King Hamad, who ascended to the throne in 1999, has been a controversial figure in the Arab Muslim world, instituting a number of electoral and legal reforms.

This past year he appointed a Jewish woman, Huda Azra Nunu to be Bahrain’s Ambassador to the United States -- the first Jewish woman to serve in such a capacity in the Arab world.

In August, he also extended a general invitation for Bahrain’s expatriate Jews to return to their former home, including those who had moved to the Jewish State.

More recently, the king promoted through his Foreign Ministry the suggestion that Israel be included in a regional summit of Middle Eastern nations that would also list Iran among the attendees.