‘Israeli delegation due in Bahrain amid warming ties’
An Israeli delegation is reportedly due to travel to Bahrain later this month for a UNESCO event in Manama. The visit is likely to trigger a fresh public outcry against the Al Khalifah regime’s warming relations with Tel Aviv.
Mounir Bouchenaki, an advisor for the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, told The Bahraini daily Akhbar al-Khaleej that Manama would host the Israeli delegation for the 42nd World Heritage Committee session scheduled to be held in the Bahraini capital between June 24 and July 4.
“An Israeli delegation will attend the meetings because this is an international meeting organized by UNESCO and Bahrain is just the host,” he said.
He also noted that any member of the UN “has the right to participate, including Israel,” claiming that Bahrain would avoid politicizing the event.
As an apparent advocate of the Palestinian cause, Bahrain has no formal diplomatic relations with the occupying regime in Israel, but senior officials from the two sides have reportedly had secret contacts in recent years.
Manama’s overtures to Tel Aviv have been met with strong public scrutiny, with people in the Persian Gulf kingdom holding numerous protest rallies against normalization of ties with Tel Aviv.
In May 2017, Manama witnessed the first visit of an Israeli official at the 67th congress of football’s world governing body, FIFA. That visit prompted the hashtag “#Bahrain_refuses_normalization” to go viral.
In 2005, Bahraini Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah boasted to an American official that Manama had contacts with Tel Aviv “at the intelligence/security level” and indicated willingness “to move forward in other areas,” according to a secret US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks.
The kingdom became the only Persian Gulf country in 2016 to publicly mourn the death of former Israeli president Shimon Peres.
Also that year, Manama officials raised eyebrows by hosting and participating in an Israeli celebration in Manama, where Bahraini dignitaries and traders danced next to rabbis.
In September 2017, Israeli newspapers quoted a rabbi who had met with the Bahraini king as saying that the ruler had opposed the Arab states’ boycott of Israel and intended to allow citizens from his kingdom to visit the occupied territories.
“The king made a clear statement: ‘It’s illogical for the Arab world to boycott Israel. We must find a better way,’” Rabbi Marvin Hier said.
Israeli media reports say 24 members of a Bahraini group, which professes campaigning for “religious freedom,” traveled to Israel this week for a four-day visit.
Last December, the Bahraini king sent a delegation to Israel “with a message of peace to the whole world,” The Times of Israel reported.
Bahraini people have been holding peaceful protest rallies on an almost daily basis since February 2011, demanding that the Al Khalifah family relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.
There has been widespread criticism of the ruling family’s discrimination against Bahrain’s Shia majority.
Manama has responded to the demonstrations with violent force, drawing international criticism from rights groups.