Israel and Bahrain marked a watershed moment in their relationship, as Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrived in the Gulf state to inaugurate Israel’s embassy. The BBC carries this story and The Times of Israel reports:
MANAMA, Bahrain — Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday officially opened Israel’s embassy in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, a year after the two countries agreed to normalize diplomatic relations.
“May our people live in peace and prosperity forever,” Lapid said during the inauguration.
He added in Hebrew: “Israel made a major, historic step today in the Gulf.”
Pursuant to the Abraham Accords, Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapd formally opened Israel’s new UAE embassy. Bahrain’s ambassador arrived in Tel Aviv and Morocco unveiled its new building in the city.
The Guardian reports:
Israel’s foreign minister has inaugurated the country’s new embassy in Abu Dhabi in the first official Israeli visit to the United Arab Emirates since the two countries normalised relations last year.
Speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Yair Lapid appeared to reach out to other regional adversaries.
“Israel wants peace with its neighbours – with all its neighbours. We aren’t going anywhere. The Middle East is our home … We call on all the countries of the region to recognise that, and to come talk to us,” he said, according to a transcript released by the Israeli foreign ministry.
One of the most promising initatives to come out of the Abraham Accords has been the founding of Sharaka, the Gulf-Israel Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.
Sharaka is Arabic for ‘partnership’. Their self-declared mission is ‘to build bonds between young Israeli and Gulf leaders in order to strengthen peace, trust and cooperation between our societies’.
The Israelis in the Sharaka team include members with roots in Arab countries, such as Amit Deri, Ben-Dror Yemini and Ofir Ohayon. In December Sharaka organised a group visit of young Arabs to Israel.
This video shows members of the delegation wiping away tears while being shown around the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.
Majid Al-Sarrah from the UAE encouraged all people to “see the reality of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem and promised, “We will spread the knowledge about the Holocaust. We will raise peace and love, say never again to anti-Semitism, hate and discrimination. We are brothers and sisters. We will stand together, and together, we will build a world free of anti-Semitism and hate.”
Mashael Al-Shemeri from Bahrain said, “I would like to say to all Jews and the people of Israel: You are not alone anymore.”
Najat Al-Saeed from Saudi Arabia added, “We must educate young generations about the full horrors of the Holocaust, including by ensuring that the Holocaust is taught in schools in the Abraham Accords countries and that special envoys are appointed for preserving Holocaust remembrance.”
Update:Arab news reports falsely stated that al-Zayani’s sit-down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Tel Aviv, when it took place in Jerusalem. (Times of Israel –with thanks: Edna)
Two Bahraini ministers will today head the first official delegation from the Gulf kingdom to Israel.
The Times of Israel reports (via HonestReporting):
Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani delivers a statement upon the arrival of a US-Israeli delegation in the Bahrain International Airport on October 18, 2020. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)
During the visit, a trilateral meeting is slated to be held between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al- Zayani.
Israeli officials are reportedly working to finalize an aviation agreement for direct flights between Tel Aviv and Manama so it can be signed at the meeting, and are also expected to discuss opening embassies and exchanging ambassadors.
Earlier this week, the Israeli cabinet voted unanimously to ratify the “Joint Communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic, peaceful, and friendly relations” with the Kingdom of Bahrain, concluding a formal process that began roughly two months ago.
Gayle Meyers was posted by the Pentagon to Bahrain. She felt safe and privileged. If she had revealed her Jewishness, she now reflects that it would have caused nothing more than a moment of uncomfortable silence. She never thought she might return to the Gulf, but with the signing of the Abraham Accords, who knows? Report in JTA News:
Bahrain Jewish community leader Ebnrahim Nonoo marks Kristallnacht for the first time at Bahrain’s synagogue
I’m not sure what I thought would happen if I talked about being Jewish. Although it’s a major part of my identity and obvious to anyone who gets to know me, I already kept a low profile about my Judaism at the Pentagon.
I was certainly not the only Jew in the building, but the culture of the place was overwhelmingly Christian, from earnest invocations of God and country to office doors that were lovingly decorated with wreaths and Santas at Christmastime. When I was working on Middle East policy, I feared it would paint me as biased, or at least as caring too much about the region.
In Bahrain, the fear was different. In my wildest nightmares I imagined being called out loudly as a Jew and all heads turning in my direction. My fear of being seen as an outsider was magnified by the nature of the country itself, which is marked by social inequality, sectarian discrimination and police repression. Among the Kingdom’s half million citizens, the in-group is composed of Sunni Muslims, with the ruling family at the center. Next come Shia Muslims and a few dozen Jews.
They are all outnumbered by foreigners, who form 80% of the country’s work force. Here too, there is a strict hierarchy: Arabs from Gulf countries can be executives and consultants. Other Arabs and educated South Asians can be clerks. Maids are Filipina. Sex workers are Eastern European and Asian. Construction workers are Bangladeshi. It almost goes without saying that women have fewer rights than men.
As an American and a member of a high-level delegation, I moved easily across lines. I could speak up and be heard in meetings with men twice my age. I ate lunch with the three female Bahrain Defense Force medical officers who attended our meetings, which would have been inappropriate behavior for my male colleagues. I went shopping in the pearl and gold markets in the evening with the guys from the delegation, while black-veiled Bahraini women shopped in quiet malls during the day.
Foreign workers have no such flexibility. They are allowed into the country to perform a specific job and can be transferred or sent home without their consent. Despite recent reforms, many are still employed under a sponsorship system that allows employers to withhold their passports and wages and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation of all kinds.
I became aware of this oppressive system in brief glimpses of Bangladeshi workers on scaffolds in the intense, humid heat and Pakistani restaurants crowded with men seeking a taste of home.
That’s when I realized that I was safe. I was a privileged, protected “other.” In spite of my fears,
if I had revealed my Jewishness, I would probably have suffered nothing more than a moment of uncomfortable silence.
I left government service long ago and now I live in Israel. I assumed I would never go back to the Gulf, but with Bahrain and the UAE opening diplomatic relations with Israel, it just might be possible. This time, I would be coming not from Mt. Olympus, but from Mt. Moriah, the holy plateau in the heart of Jerusalem, which sits just across the valley from my home.
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