Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (AP/Evan Vucci) (AP/Evan Vucci)
Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa


Amid the tension surrounding Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, a group from Bahrain is visiting Israel, taking a step towards better relations with the Jewish state.  

An interfaith group from Bahrain is visiting Israel amid turmoil over President Donald Trump’s historic declaration recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, angering some in the island nation who support the Palestinians.

The group’s trip comes after two US-based rabbis have said that Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa thinks that the longtime boycott of Israel by Arab countries should end.

While organizers repeatedly described the trip as nonpolitical, the timing comes as Bahrain increasingly looks like the test case for other Gulf Arab nations in seeing what could happen if they recognize Israel.

A group of 30 people from Bahrain, including Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims, flew to Israel for the event. They plan to visit universities and talk to officials there about topics of common interest, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC).

“The goal here is to multiply the interactions and contacts among people doing similar things in the overall region,” the rabbi told The Associated Press on Sunday. “Until now, there was absolutely no chance of having contact.”

King Hamad hosted Cooper and another SWC rabbi in February. In September, King Hamad’s son, Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, went to the center to promote a religious tolerance declaration signed by the king.

Will Arab Boycott on Israel End?

It was at that September event that word spread of King Hamad’s comments about wanting the Arab boycott of Israel to end.

That goes against decades of Arab opposition to Israel, which at its heart remains the demand for the creation of a Palestinian state and Israel’s withdrawal from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Only Egypt and Jordan have made separate peace deals with Israel.

However, in recent years, since the forging of the Iran nuclear deal, Sunni Arab states have found themselves on the same side as Israel.

Bahrain, an island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia connected by a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) causeway, has long been known as more liberal than its ultraconservative neighbor. Its bars and nightclubs attract cross-border traffic, as well as sailors based there with the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

The island also hosts a small Jewish community, whose presence occasionally makes waves. An online video last year from Bahrain during Chanukah caused a minor stir when it showed yarmulke-wearing Jews dancing with Arabs in traditional robes and kaffiyeh headdresses.

Betrayal of the Palestinians?

As news of the Bahraini delegation in Israel spread, many took to social media in anger Monday. Already, many had been sending messages of support to Palestinians over Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

“I reject this normalization of relations with the usurping enemy’s entity,” Ebrahim Sharif, a secularist politician, wrote on Twitter. “I consider this visit by the delegation a betrayal of the Palestinian people.”

By: AP and United with Arab Staff