MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) – Bahrain’s king has appointed a woman believed to be the Arab world’s first Jewish ambassador as the country’s envoy to Washington.
Lawmaker Houda Nonoo said she was proud to serve her country “first of all as a Bahraini,” adding she was not chosen for the post because of her religion. “It is a great honor to have been appointed as the first female ambassador to the United States of America and I am looking forward to meeting this new challenge,” Nonoo told The Associated Press by telephone.
The Wednesday decree issued by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and reported by the official Bahrain News Agency had not specified where Nonoo, a 43-year-old mother of two boys, would be posted.
Bahrain, a pro-Western island nation with Sunni rulers and a Shiite majority, is a close U.S. ally and hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. It has about 50 Jewish citizens among a population of roughly a half-million people.
Nonoo has served as legislator in Bahrain’s all-appointed 40-member Shura Council for three years.
Nonoo replaced her cousin Ibrahim Nonoo, who held the Shura Council seat for four years. A businesswoman who lives both in Bahrain and London, Nono also is the first Jewish woman to head a local rights organization, the Bahrain Human Rights Watch.
Jews migrated here in the 19th century, mostly from Iran and Iraq. Their numbers increased early in the 20th century but decreased after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when many left for Israel, the U.S. and Europe.
Today’s Jews keep a low profile in Bahrain, working mostly in banks, commercial and trade companies and retail. They live in upscale parts of the country, being part of the wealthy business community.
There is also a synagogue and a private Jewish cemetery here. At the height of the Arab-Israeli war, the synagogue was attacked and torched by angry Muslims. The structure was later refurbished.
Bahrain has no diplomatic relations with Israel. In 1969, an official Israeli delegation visited Bahrain but protesters burned the Israeli flag in a large street demonstration at the time. In 2006, after Bahrain signed the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., Manama closed down a government office that endorsed a boycott of Israeli goods.