Ebrahim Nonoo, a businessman, former member of the Shura council, and head of the Jewish community in Bahrain, was interviewed by 124News ahead of the signing of the historic peace accords between Israel and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
Nonooo said that Bahraini Jews are the only indigenous Jews in the Gulf. “Their history began at the end of the 19th century when Iraqi Jews found that there were jobs available in Bahrain since it was a trading post between India and Europe.”
“They quickly managed to develop very good businesses here and then the community grew to about 800 Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. When the Jewish state was declared in 1948, the Jews started leaving Bahrain.” [As in other Arab countries, riots broke out: the shul was torched and Jews were physically assaulted.]
The interviewer asked Nonoo about the fact that members of the Jewish community have held and currently hold prominent positions in Bahrain, with Nonoo having served two terms in Bahrain’s parliament, the Shura Council, and his niece, Houda Nonoo, having been appointed as the first Jewish ambassador of an Arab state.
Nonoo responded that there’s a seat in the Upper House of Parliament for the Jewish community. He was the first one to occupy the position and it is now held by Nancy Khedouri, who is also related to Nonoo.
“But we’re not strangers to such positions because my grandfather was the first Jew to be elected to the Manama municipality in 1924,” Nonoo said. “We’re very much integrated into Bahraini culture. Bahrain has the most amazing measure of divergent religions and cultures in a very small area. Everyone respects each other.”
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Nonoo mentioned that when Israeli Rishon L’tzion Rav Shlomo Amar visited Bahrain in 2019 for an interfaith religious conference: “I took him to shul and we walked down the street and he was absolutely thrilled to be able to do that because he was a little nervous that it wasn’t safe. But the Muslims’ attitude in Bahrain is that everyone has their own religion and that’s why I have so many close Muslim friends, both Shiite and Sunni background.”
The interviewer asked Nonoo about what he thinks the peace deal with Israel will mean for the Jewish community in Bahrain and he said that “it will open the doors to get kosher food.” He also mentioned Jewish visitors and it seems like Bahrain in general is eager to foster tourism. Another area that Bahrain is particularly interested in is agricultural development and they are very interested in gaining Israeli knowledge and technology in this area.
Although the interviewer asked Nonoo about security issues in the country and opposition to the peace deal among Bahraini citizens as well as the fact that Bahrain is right next to Iran, Nonoo was non-committal in his answers and said that people in the country avoid speaking about politics at all.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)