A delegation of religious figures from the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, sent by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, arrived in Israel this week “in order to send a message of peace,” The Times of Israel reported on Sunday.
It is extremely rare for representatives from Arab countries with which Israel maintains no formal diplomatic relations to visit the Jewish state and is further evidence of the normalization process between the two nations.
The Bahraini delegation, which is made up of 24 members of the “This is Bahrain” group, is in Israel for a four-day visit with the mandate to foster a climate of religious tolerance between people of different faiths. On their website, the group states its commitment to a vision of “religious freedom and peaceful co-existence where we all live together in harmony in the spirit of mutual respect and love.”
A Shiite cleric on the trip told Hadashot TV news that “The king sent us with a message of peace to the whole world.” The cleric said that Shiites, who make up a majority of the Sunni ruled country, do not harbor hatred against Jews or members of any other faiths. “The Shiites in Bahrain and outside don’t feel hatred, they don’t carry a message of loathing or hate towards any religion or religious stream whatsoever,” he said.
In 2009, Bahrain’s crown prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa published an op-ed in The Washington Post, in which he urged Arab countries to reach out to Israel in the interest of peace. WikiLeaks documents revealed that senior officials from Israel and Bahrain have spoken in recent years, including a 2007 meeting between then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa in New York. The Gulf kingdom also named Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo as the first Jewish Ambassador to the United States from an Arab nation in 2011.
Bahrain, like Israel, is extremely alarmed by Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and Bahraini officials have stated their desire to establish ties between Jerusalem and Manama to help contain the Islamic Republic’s influence in the region.
Earlier this year, a prominent rabbi, who met with Bahrain’s king, told The Times of Israel that al-Khalifa said he opposes the Arab states’ boycott of Israel and intends to allow citizens from his kingdom to travel freely to the Jewish state.
[Photo: ILTV ISRAEL DAILY / YouTube]