TEL AVIV – In a first, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa slammed the Arab boycott of Israel and said he encourages his subjects to visit the Jewish state.
The monarch made his remarks to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, at a multi-faith event last week to sign a declaration denouncing religious hatred and violence authored by the Persian Gulf nation.
Even though the country does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and has even participated in the Arab League boycott against the Jewish state, the tiny island nation has made several overtures to indicate that its attitude towards Israel is different from that of its Arab neighbors. From 2008-2013, a Jewish citizen of the country, Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, served as the Bahraini ambassador to the U.S., marking the first time a Jew represented an Arab country. Since 2015, the king has celebrated Hanukkah at his palace with both Muslims and Jews present.
Early this year, King Hamad invited Cooper and his partner at the Wiesenthal Center, Marvin Hier, on an official visit to Bahrain’s capital of Manama where they toured – among other sites – the only synagogue to still exist in the Persian Gulf region. The three also discussed opening a Museum of Religious Tolerance in Manama.
According to SWC, the Bahrain Declaration was the first of its kind written by an Arab Head of State.
Bahrain’s Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa said at the event in Los Angeles, “One thing that I have learned today is if our pace is to change one person at a time so let it be so. Let’s change one person at a time. The world is actually gaining one person at a time, and this is the way we do it.”
“With forgiveness, with tolerance … this world is going to be a much, much better world,” he continued.
Delegations of Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims numbering some 400 people all signed the declaration.
Representatives from Muslim nations including Kuwait, Egypt, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan even stood as the Bahrain National Orchestra played Israel’s national anthem “Hatikva.”
Asked whether Bahrain’s warming relations towards Israel would change anything in that region, Cooper responded that the island nation, like Israel, “lives in a tough neighborhood. But if there is to be any hope for the future, it will have to be realized by voices of religious moderation.”