Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Jewish woman gets Arab post

The kingdom of Bahrain, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, is preparing to appoint a Jewish woman as ambassador to the United States, according to reports from the island nation in the Persian Gulf.

Huda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, a member of Bahrain’s legislature and secretary-general of the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, is expected to replace Naser M.Y. al Belooshi, Bahrain’s ambassador here since September 2005.

The Gulf News, reporting from the Bahraini capital of Manama, quoted another member of the 40-seat Shura Council, which is appointed by King Hamad bin isa Al Khalifa, as confirming the expected announcement of the appointment.

“Huda is Bahrain’s nominee for the post, and this, of course, is very good news for Bahrain’s deep-rooted values of tolerance and openness,” Faisal Fouladh, also a member of the legislature and a board member of the society, told the newspaper.

A spokeswoman for the Bahraini Embassy in Washington yesterday said she could not confirm the report because the king has not yet announced a replacement for Mr. Belooshi. Several foreign-policy experts here said they think that her appointment would mostly likely make Mrs. Nonoo the first Jewish diplomat representing an Arab nation.

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Islamic Pluralism, said the appointment could represent a sign of a breakthrough in Muslim-Jewish relations.

“It’s an eternal, perennial hope among peace-oriented Jews and peace-oriented Muslims,” he said. “I think it’s a trial balloon … that the Gulf nations are ready to have relations with the global Jewish community, which would include Israel.”

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, is a nation of about 725,000 residents of whom only 430,000 are Bahraini subjects. The Jewish community, which dates to ancient times, is tiny. The Jewish Virtual Library, an online Jewish resource Web site, counted only 36 Jews in the nation, although other sources said the number could be as high as 200.

The State Department human rights report cites more discrimination against the minority Shi’ite population by the Sunni majority than against the Jewish community. The constitution recognizes Islam as the official religion but tolerates other faiths.

“Members of other religious groups who practice their faith do so without interference from the government,” the report said.

Mrs. Nonoo and Mr. Fouladh are members of the Shura Council, the upper chamber of the bicameral legislature. The Shura Council is appointed by the king, while the lower house is elected.

The nation’s only synagogue was closed voluntarily in 1948 after anti-Israeli riots. Most of the anti-Semitic violence came from foreign Arabs in Bahrain, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. Today, Jews have no religious schools or services, although they do practice their faith privately.

Mrs. Nonoo, quoted in an article posted on the Web site (, said, “We keep Rosh Hashana and [Passover] and the other holidays in our homes. When my son had his bar mitzvah, I flew a rabbi over from London for it.”

Taiwan ties

The U.S. commitment to defend Taiwan will give the new president the security support he needs to improve relations with communist China, the top American diplomat in Taiwan said yesterday.

“We are convinced American support for Taiwan’s defense gives its democratic leaders the confidence to explore closer ties with its big neighbor without fear of pressure or coercion,” said Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan.

President Ma Ying-jeou was elected last month on a platform that included promises to improve relations with China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province and has threatened military retaliation should Taiwan openly declare independence.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail

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