In the tense landscape of the Middle East, there is little room left for Jewish Arabs, a tiny minority in this country as well as in places like Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. But in Bahrain, the king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, has taken unprecedented steps for an Arab leader to show his support for his dwindling Jewish population. Last year, he appointed a Jewish woman, Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, as ambassador to the United States, the first Jewish ambassador posted abroad by any Arab country.While Bahrain's efforts to make its 36 Jews comfortable is admirable, there may be an agenda:
Then he made a personal visit to London to appeal to expatriate Jews to return to Bahrain. He has also appointed Jewish business leaders to the Shura Council, which acts as an upper house of Parliament. Those measures went against the tide in a region where anti-Semitism is often preached from government-controlled mosques and hating all Jews has become interchangeable with hating the state of Israel.
Being Jewish in the conservative Persian Gulf region still presents challenges, even in Bahrain. Though it has preserved its last synagogue, the building has not had a religious use for decades and all Jewish symbols have been removed. Nevertheless, it is defaced with graffiti that says, in Arabic, “Death to Israel.”
Some people here take a cynical view of their king’s outreach. Bahrain is a close American ally of great strategic value to Washington. It is near Iran and allows the United States Navy to base its Fifth Fleet here. Many people said the king’s overtures were a safe and convenient bid to cement ties with Washington.It is easy to be tolerant when the tolerated minority offers zero threat and happily accepts its second-class status. When other minorities are not treated as well, one must question why that is. The answer very may well be the flip-side of anti-semitism: the belief that since Jews control the world, it makes sense to butter them up.
“We always believe here that control of America is governed by the Zionist lobby,” said Salman Kamal al-Deen, a businessman and the head of the Bahrain Human Rights Society. “The media and the money are all in the hands of the Jews. We believe if we have a Jewish ambassador and Jews in the Shura Council, this is a positive indicator for the country.”
There is also some resentment at the king’s support for the small Jewish community. Bahrain is hot with sectarian tensions: the king, a Sunni Muslim, is accused of discriminating against Shiite Muslims, who make up a majority of the native population. Shiites are barred from almost all positions in the military and security services, and they say they are not given the same employment and education opportunities as their Sunni neighbors.
Shiites complain that the 36 Jews are treated better than they are, and that the king’s Jewish outreach is intended to make Bahrain appear to be a tolerant society, papering over the systemic discrimination they say they experience.
Similarly, here is another news story from over the weekend:
Al-Jazeera is lobbying Canadian Jews in its bid for regulatory approval to hit the airwaves.In both these cases, the reason for paying attention to Jews is not because Jews are respected. It is because Jews are perceived to have power and must be sucked up to. While this is arguably better than the normal explicit hate that comes from the Arab world, the thinking behind it is very similar.
Tony Burman, a former executive at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. who is now managing director of the Al-Jazeera network, met this week with representatives of the Canadian Jewish Congress to reassure Canadian Jews that the operation's English service, which has been running for two years, is independent from the controversial Arabic service.