Bahrain’s recognition of Israel reveals a vision for the future of the region
The monumental announcement that Bahrain and Israel are establishing official relations is exciting and gratifying, both from an international relations perspective but also for me personally.
I have enjoyed a close relationship with King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain for more than a decade. We have had many conversations about Israel over the years and he has shared his paramount interest in, and authentic desire to see, the establishment of relations between his kingdom and Israel.
He has always recognized that Israel and Bahrain have more in common than differences. He holds Israel in high regard in terms of its technological prowess, healthcare innovation and military strength. He has always seen establishing relations as a win-win situation for both sides.
Today, that vision has become a reality, which I know has made King Hamad very proud and excited for what is to come from this partnership.
Moreover, this recognition shows the king’s leadership in the region and his strong vision for the future not only of the Gulf, but for the entire Middle East.
I was honored to be the first rabbi to visit the royal palace, when King Hamad invited me in 2011. During our various conversations, as well as through the actions of his government, he has consistently shown his support for Israel, and his message has been echoed by others in his government.
In 2018, for example, former Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa posted a message on Twitter in support of Israel’s military operation to expose and destroy Hezbollah’s cross-border tunnels into Israel. He wrote: “Is the digging of tunnels by the organization (Hezbollah) not an open threat to the stability of Lebanon? Who bears responsibility when the neighboring countries take upon themselves the task of getting rid of the danger that threatens them?”
A few weeks later, he tweeted his support for Australia’s formal recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying: “Australia’s position does not hamper the legitimate demands of the Palestinians, and first and foremost East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. It also does not contradict the Arab Peace Initiative.”
This new partnership between Bahrain and Israel is one that we should all be excited about and grateful for. We are seeing a shift in the Gulf as more states look to normalize relations with Israel.
Rabbi Marc Schneier
No Gulf leader has expressed a public desire to establish relations with Israel more than King Hamad and his government.
Between 2013 and 2015, King Hamad led the effort for the Gulf Cooperation Council to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Following his success in doing so he told me, during a meeting in his palace in Manama in 2016, that “our only hope for a strong, moderate Arab voice is a strong Israel.”
In 2017, after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, King Hamad sent an interfaith mission from Bahrain to Israel. He was the first leader from any Gulf state to do so.
In February 2018, after King Hamad invited me to bring a delegation from The Hampton Synagogue in New York to Bahrain, we flew to the Kingdom and met government officials and the leadership of the Jewish community. We met the former ambassador of Bahrain to the US, Huda Nonoo; member of parliament Nancy Khedouri; and community leader Michael Yadgar, who shared with us the country’s rich history of supporting its Jewish community. We visited the synagogue in Manama — the first in the Gulf — and the Jewish cemetery.
In 2019, Bahrain hosted the White House’s Peace to Prosperity Workshop. While that was exciting in its own right, perhaps more exciting was the fact that the Bahrain government for the first time welcomed seven Israeli journalists to the Kingdom.
I was honored to be asked to participate as part of Bahrain’s delegation and recall sitting with then Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid, who has since moved on to a new position, during the conference and asking him if he would consider giving an interview to one of the Israeli journalists I had just spoken to. He immediately said he would and that I should bring him over.
During that historic interview, he said: “Israel is part of the heritage of this whole region, historically. So the Jewish people have a place among us.”
This new partnership between Bahrain and Israel is one that we should all be excited about and grateful for. We are seeing a shift in the Gulf as more states look to normalize relations with Israel and I predict that a third will follow.
There is so much potential for economic partnership and I am very excited to see where this next chapter takes us.
- Rabbi Marc Schneier is the founder and president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and an adviser to many Gulf leaders.