The king of Bahrain appears to have taken the first steps of any Gulf state to end the economic and diplomatic boycott of Israel by ordering his kingdom’s mosques to stop sermons attacking the Jewish state.
According to The Times, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa gave the order after airing his unease at the Arab world’s turned-back approach in February, when he met two American rabbis from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre (SWC).
Rabbi Marvin Hier, the SWC’s founder and director, who met the king, said this week that the Bahraini royal family sent a “clear signal” that it was serious about normalising relations with Israel after a Bahraini prince attended an event at the Weisenthal Center last week.
“The king made a clear statement: ‘It’s illogical for the Arab world to boycott Israel. We must find a better way,’” Hier said, adding that the tiny kingdom’s monarch was “absolutely” ready to let Bahrainis travel to Israel.
Most Gulf and Arab states have boycotted Israel since the state’s founding in 1948, despite Egypt and Jordan signing peace treaties. However, in its battle against Iran, Israel has seen itself sided with the Gulf monarchies.
Analysts have long suggested a diplomatic thaw was pending, particularly after Israel joined Arab and Gulf neighbours in banning Qatar-based Al-Jazeera last month, so al-Khalifa’s order to the kingdoms’ mosques may signal the start.
Bahraini officials were quoted in The Middle East Eye as describing a period of engagement between Israeli and Bahraini business executives and religious and cultural figures, with visits preceding those of ministers.