Skip To Content

Bahrain To Tap Jewish Ambassador

Washington – Bahrain is expected to appoint a member of its tiny Jewish community as ambassador to the United States, the small Persian Gulf state’s top diplomatic posting.

The expected nomination of Houda Ezra Nonoo would be historic in several respects: She would not only become the first Jew to represent a Muslim state, but also the first woman and the first human rights activist to head Bahrain’s diplomatic mission in Washington.

The appointment, while not yet officially confirmed, is being described by Middle East experts not only as a sign of an increased effort by Bahrain to include women and religious minorities in the political process, but also as an indication that the country is taking seriously America’s concerns about democracy and equality in the monarchy.

“If you’re a Bahraini and you want to improve your image without making fundamental changes that could endanger the regime’s stability, this nomination would be a pretty good idea,” said David Mack, a former American ambassador to the United Arab Emirates who is currently serving an adjunct scholar at Washington’s Middle East Institute.

According to Mack, while the Bahraini government has been widely criticized for not sufficiently representing the interests of the country’s Shi’ite majority, its record has improved on gender equality and religious freedom for minority groups, including Jews.

There are currently 36 Jews living in Bahrain, all in the capital, Manama. According to press reports, the local Jews, most of whom are descendants of Iraqi and Iranian immigrants, enjoy full religious freedom and are allowed to practice their faith openly. As the Jewish population dwindled from a high of several thousand in the early 1940s, the only Jewish synagogue in Bahrain closed its doors, but community members say they still hold the keys and are allowed to use the synagogue for worship. Manama also has a Jewish cemetery.

In a January interview with the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, Nancy Kadouri, Nonoo’s cousin and a member of the Jewish community, said Bahraini Jews enjoy excellent ties with the government.

“Our king really loves the Jews,” Kadouri said, referring to King HamAd bin Isa al Khalifa, who has ruled the kingdom since 1999.

Nonoo first made her mark on Bahraini public life in 2006, when she was chosen to head the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society. The group fights for women’s rights and is often at odds with the country’s strict Islamic rulings on issues relating to divorce and child custody. Nonoo was the only woman in an Arab country to head such an organization. She is also a member of the Shura Council, a consultative branch of Bahrain’s government.

Yasmina Britel, a spokeswoman for the Bahraini Embassy in Washington, cautioned that a royal decree announcing Nonoo’s diplomatic appointment, as is required by Bahraini law, had yet to be made.

“Her name is among those mentioned for the post,” Britel said, “but there are other names, too.”

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.