Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Bahrain Virtual Jewish History Tour

By Ariel Scheib and Mitchell Bard

Relations with Israel


According to Talmudic references, Jews have lived in Bahrain since ancient times. It was also recorded in Arabic sources that Jews lived in Hajar, the capital of Bahrain, in 630 C.E. and refused to convert to Islam when Muhammad sent an army to occupy the territory.

Benjamin of Tudela recorded in the 12th century that nearly 500 Jews lived in Qays and that a population of 5,000 resided in al-Qatifa. Benjamin also recounted that these Jews controlled the local pearl industry.

In the late 19th century, Jews from Iraq, and some from Iran and India settled in Bahrain, beginning with the Yadgar family, who came to Bahrain from Iraq in 1880. The community thrived in local commerce and crafts. For instance the Yadgars became wealthy from the textile trade. Other prominent Jewish families, such as the Nonoos, became wealthy in the banking industry. One local Jewish man, Rouben D. stated, “My family came to Bahrain in 1914. Nothing happened to make us leave Iraq. My grandfather was a trader and when he came here, he just decided he wanted to live here.” The Jewish community consecrated a small synagogue in Manama, the capital of Bahrain. Nancy Khedouri, a Bahraini Jew writing a book on the community, estimates that at its largest, Bahrain was home to as many as 1,500 Jews.

Before the establishment of the State of Israel, nearly 600 Jews lived in Bahrain. In fact, in the 1930’s and 1940’s, there were so many Jewish-owned businesses along Al-Mutanabi Road that it was called “Jews’ Street” and all the shops would close for the Jewish Sabbath. Things changed with the birth of the Jewish State. Anti-Semitic riots erupted and the synagogue was burned down. In 1947, many Jews immigrated to Israel after several anti-Semitic attacks on the Jewish community. In 1948, many Muslims foreigners came into Bahrain and initiated massive protests over the creation of Israel; it was these foreigners, and not the Bahrainis, who caused the destruction of the local synagogue and several Jewish homes. Many Jewish families hid from the conflict in Bahraini Muslim homes, until things settled down. Nevertheless, after a few years, most of the Jewish community left Bahrain for the United States or England. By the 1960s, about 200 to 300 Jews remained in Bahrain, but once riots broke out again following the Six Day War in 1967, virtually the entire Jewish community left the country.

Today, there are approximately 36 Jewish citizens, from six families, in Bahrain out of a total population of 700,000. While the community can rarely make a minyan, Bahrain is the only country in the Persian Gulf with any kind of Jewish community or synagogue. The community also maintains a small Jewish cemetery. Abraham David Nonoo, the Jewish community’s unofficial leader and a member of Bahrain’s forty-man Shura, or parliamentary council, recently renovated the synagogue with his own funds after the roof began to fall in. Since the synagogue is no longer in use, the Jewish community had considered converting the building for another use or donating it to charity, but the Bahraini government insisted it remain a synagogue. However, both the synagogue and cemetery are always closed. The government has also offered the Jewish community a piece of land to rebuild the synagogue that was destroyed in 1948.

The Jewish community in Bahrain has no rabbi, so religious ceremonies are conducted abroad. The last Jewish funeral in Bahrain was in 2001, and the community barely managed to get a minyan. On religious holidays, services are conducted in a congregant’s home. According to Houda Ezra Nonoo, “We keep Rosh Hashanah 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.” There are no yeshivas or Jewish schools in Bahrain so all Jewish education takes place in the home. Furthermore, children are sent to one of three schools: public school, Catholic school, or private “American” school. The majority of Jewish boys were sent to public school, where much of the religious education was centered on the Koran. The majority of Jewish families sent their daughters to the American school. Most of the Jewish families of Bahrain do not believe that boys and girls should be educated together. Today, most of the Jews who remain in Bahrain are single, as there are so few Jews in Bahrain and Jews and Arabs rarely intermarry.

Ironically, in a region filled with religious tension, the Jews in Bahrain feel comfortable and welcomed. Bahraini Jews have equal rights along with their Muslim neighbors. “When the late Amir (Shaikh Isa bin Sulman Al Khalifa) passed away last year, the present Amir (Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa) called the Jewish community together and told us there was nothing to worry about, the government would continue with its same policy. He assured us nothing would change.”

Indeed, those Jews remaining in Bahrain today claim they feel no discrimination. The Khedouri family is Bahrain’s leading importer of tablecloths and linens. Ninety-five percent of customers at Rouben Rouben’s electronics business are Bahraini and the government is his largest corporate consumer.In 2008, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa issued a royal decree officially appointing female Jewish lawmaker Houda Nonoo as the Bahrain ambassador to the United States. Nonoo, whose family is originally from Iraq, lives in Bahrain with her husband and two sons amd had previously served for three years as a legislator in Bahrain’s all-appointed, 40-member Shura Council. She is the first Jew, much less the first Jewish woman, in the Arab world to become ambassador.

In November 2013, Bahrain announced that Nonoo's term as U.S. ambassador had ended and the Jewish diplomat returned to her country where she was tapped to work in the Foreign Ministry.

Rabbi Moshe Levin, director of the Conference of European Rabbis, was invited to light Chanukah candles in the Palace of the King of Bahrain on December 8, 2015. This is the first such event to take place since the Israel was established, and an estimated 50 Jews were present for the ceremony.

During the 2019 “economic workshop” in Manama, the king of Bahrain told Trump administration senior adviser Jared Kushner that he was very proud to have a synagogue in the country. Kushner learned the synagogue did not have a Torah scroll and commissioned the writing of one, which he presented to the king, dedicating it in the king’s honor for the local synagogue to use.

On October 22, 2020, Shaikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, chairman of the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence, signed a memorandum of understanding in Washington to work with the United States “to combat anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and delegitimization of Israel.

After decades of worshipping in private, Ebrahim Nonoo can now lead prayer services in Manama’s synagogue. The small, white-painted synagogue with wood-framed windows, wooden benches with navy blue cushions, a big screen to broadcast prayers, and a bimah holding religious books in Arabic, English and Hebrew was recently renovated at a cost of about $159,000.

“We can develop Jewish life in Bahrain because we have a fully functioning synagogue,” Nonoo said. He also hopes to buy the building next to the synagogue to establish a yeshiva.

Relations with Israel

The only restriction on Bahraini Jews is that they are unable to visit Israel because they hold Bahraini passports. Relations between Israel and Bahrain seemed to be improving in the early 1990s when a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict seemed to be approaching. Yossi Sarid, a member of the Knesset, visited Bahrain to set up a trade office in Oman and visited the Jewish synagogue and cemetery. Once the intifada broke out however, the trade office in Oman was closed. Bahrain did agree to drop its boycott of companies that do business with Israel in exchange for a free-trade agreement with the United States in 2004.

In February 2016, Israel’s Deputy Minister for Regional Cooperation Ayoub Kara claimed that an Israeli hospital had recently performed a life-saving surgery on a Bahraini Princess. Kara revealed the previously secret fact that in 2010, an unnamed Bahraini Princess had an unspecified life-saving procedure performed at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center. With little chance of survival in her home country, the Princess was invited to have the operation performed in the United States but opted to have the surgery done in Israel. The decision to treat the Princess was approved by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and helped improve Israel-Bahrain relations behind the scenes.

In 2017, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al Khalif denounced the Arab boycott of Israel and encouraged his citizens to freely travel to the country despite the fact that Bahrain and Israel have no formal diplomatic relations.

Dana Benvenisti-Gabay, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s regional security and counter-terrorism department, represented Israel at the Working Group on Maritime and Aviation Security meeting held in Manama. The meeting, co-hosted by Bahrain, the United States and Poland, is part of the so-called Warsaw Process, which started with a meeting in the Polish capital several weeks earlier to discuss Iran and regional stability.

In June 2019, Bahrain hosted the U.S.-backed “Peace to Prosperity” meeting in Manama, which focused on the economic side of President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan and was promoted as the first part of Washington's long-delayed broader political blueprint to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

One sign of the warming ties with Israel was the decision by Bahraini authorities in April 2020 to shut down an event organized by supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement planning to discuss the dangers of Gulf states’ normalizing relations with Israel.

Following the UAE agreement to normalize relations with Israel in August 2020, Bahraini officials called Kushner and White House envoy Avi Berkowitz and told them, “We want to be next.”

Negotiations subsequently began between senior officials from both countries along with Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer. Kushner subsequently traveled to Manama to meet with King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.

One key to advancing the talks was for the Saudis to give the Bahrainis a green light to normalize ties with Israel, which they apparently received. The king, Netanyahu, and Trump then finalized the deal in a phone call.

President Trump announced on September 11, 2020, Israel and Bahrain “will exchange embassies and ambassadors, begin direct flights between their countries, and launch cooperation initiatives across a broad range of sectors, including health, business, technology, education, security, and agriculture.”

On September 15, 2020, the Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations Between Israel and Bahrain was signed in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. by President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Bahrain Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullatif Al Zayani. As part of the Abraham Accords, the three leaders, along with the Foreign Minister of the UAE also signed a declaration expressing their common interests.

On September 15, 2020, the Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations Between Israel and Bahrain was signed in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. by President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Bahrain Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullatif Al Zayani. As part of the Abraham Accords, the three leaders, along with the Foreign Minister of the UAE also signed a declaration expressing their common interests.

The trilateral meeting in Washington was followed by another in Manama on October 18, 2020, during which Israel and Bahrain signed a “joint communique on establishing peaceful and diplomatic relations,” but not a peace treaty. They also signed agreements related to economic cooperation, civil aviation, cooperation between finance ministries, communications and mail, agriculture, cooperation between foreign ministries, and visa-exempt status for diplomats.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Bahraini Foreign Minister Adullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani before the signing, saying: “We are making giant steps to promote peace… This is the start of a breakthrough towards peace.”

The first El Al flight to Manama took off from Ben-Gurion Airport, carrying National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Prime Minister’s Office Acting Director-General Ronen Peretz and Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz, as well as top officials from the Tourism and Communications Ministries. They were joined by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

“I think 10 years from now, when we look back at this, this will be as significant if not more significant than both the Egyptian treaty and the Jordanian treaty [with Israel], in how it has changed the whole region – economically, in particular, but also from a security standpoint and a cultural standpoint,” said Mnuchin.

Houda Nounoo, the former Bahraini ambassador to the U.S., who is Jewish, gave Israeli journalists a tour of the community’s synagogue, which has long been dormant but is due to reopen on February 25, 2021 – Purim – after renovations are completed.

“Coexistence in Bahrain was here way before anyone began talking about coexistence and tolerance,” she said. “Bahrain is the only country in the Gulf that has indigenous Jews. So that’s important to remember.”

“If we’ve got diplomatic relations, and we’ve got Jewish people in the embassy, and we’ve got also Jews who are from the American base – I think we are going to have enough numbers to have minyans regularly. But more importantly, for the festivals, I think, it will be nice to bring in the rabbis and celebrate the festivals,” he said.

On November 10, 2020, the Israeli government approved the agreement with Bahrain by a vote of 62-14.

A 40-person delegation from Bahrain visited Israel in December 2020. Bahrain’s Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister, Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for cooperation between the governments and the private sector in the field of tourism. The MOU establishes a joined committee headed by the countries’ tourism ministers, which will meet regularly to promote joined ventures among travel agents, airlines, tour operators, and all relevant industry representative.

Separately, female Israeli diplomats participated with counterparts from the U.S., Bahrain and the UAE in a discussion the role of women in diplomacy and promoting peace and security in the Middle East and beyond.

According to community members, there were between 36 and 40 Jewish citizens (six families) in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts according to the State Department.

On August 31, 2021, Bahrain’s first-ever ambassador, Khaled Yousef al-Jalahmah, arrived in Israel. A month later, Foreign Minister Yari Lapid became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Bahrain to open the Israeli embassy in Manama. The two countries had signed 12 memorandums of understanding and the Israeli delegation was to sign five more relating to economics and technology, and cooperation between hospitals and water companies.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made a historic two-day visit to Bahrain in mid-February 2022 where met the Bahraini king, crown prince, cabinet ministers, and representatives of the local Jewish community. 

Bennett said in an interview, “I see Israel and Bahrain as close partners in all areas. The cooperation between us is natural. I expect trade between us to increase significantly, as it has grown, for example, with the UAE. I expect the volume of tourism to increase, of course after the coronavirus passes, and most importantly, I aspire for the two peoples to get to know each other better, through delegation visits, joint cultural activities, etc. We want a very warm peace with Bahrain.”

Israel and Bahrain have agreed to implement a bilateral 10-year plan called “The Joint Warm Peace Strategy,” which will prioritize areas of mutual interest, including innovation ecosystems, food and water security, sustainable energy, healthcare, education, trade, and investment. The leaders also agreed to expedite the negotiations on agreements for the protection of investments and the joint work on a tax treaty, to promote cultural exchanges, and educational and academic collaboration, and to begin direct flights to Manama from Israel by Israir.

Two weeks earlier, Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited Bahrain and signed a defense agreement, and agreed to assign an IDF officer to be permanently based in Bahrain to enhance security cooperation. Separately in Bahrain, KSM (Kahn-Sagol-Maccabi), the Research and Innovation Center of the Maccabi health fund, and the government hospitals of Bahrain signed a collaborative medical research agreement.

Dr. Ahmed al-Ansari, CEO of Government Hospitals in Bahrain, said: “We are pleased to be embarking on this medical-research collaboration between the government hospitals in Bahrain and the Maccabi Health Fund in Israel. I am confident that together we can continue to develop medicine in the Middle East by advancing new medical technologies and conducting ground-breaking research between the countries.”

Israel’s Channel 12 reported in June 2022 that Israel had deployed radar systems to counter the threat of ballistic missiles from Iran.

On September 4, 2023, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen attended an official ceremony for the opening of the Israeli embassy in Manama. “The (Bahrain) foreign minister and I agreed that we should work together to increase the number of direct flights, the tourism, the trade volume, the investments,” Cohen said during the ceremony.

Sources: World Jewish Congress.
“The Jews of Bahrain.”
“Island Girl” by Michael Rosenbloom.
Encyclopedia Judaica.
“Life’s good for Jews of Bahrain — as long as they don’t visit Israel.” JTA, (October 18, 2006).
“Low Profile But Welcome: A Jewish Outpost in the Gulf.” The Independent, (November 2, 2007).
“Bahraini King selects Jewish ambassador.” The Jerusalem Post, (May 29, 2008).
“The Arab envoy...who’s Jewish.” The Jewish Chronicle (June 13, 2008).
JTA (November 17, 2013).
“King of Bahrain Lights Hanukkah Candles With Rabbi,” Haaretz (December 9, 2015).
Raphael Ahren. “Bahraini princess had life-saving surgery in Israel, deputy minister says,” Times of Israel (February 9, 2016).
Tom Tugend.  Bahrain King Denounces Arab Boycott of Israel, Says Countrymen May Visit, Jerusalem Post (September 17, 2017).
“In rare formal visit, Israeli official attends anti-Iran conference in Bahrain,” Times of Israel, (October 21, 2019).
“Bahrain shuts down event criticising normalisation with Israel,” Middle East Eye, (May 11, 2020).
U.S. State Department.
Omri Nahmias, “Bahrain agrees to normalize relations with Israel, Trump announces,” Jerusalem Post, (September 11, 2020).
Barak Ravid, “Behind the scenes of the U.S.-brokered Israel-Bahrain agreement,” Axios, (September 11, 2020).
Lahav Harkov, “Israel, Bahrain sign peace statement in Manama, Jerusalem Post, (October 18, 2020).
Ron Kampeas, “In an Arab first, Bahraini institution joins with State Dept. to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism,” JTA, (October 25, 2020).
Bicom News Update, (December 4, 2020).
2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S. State Department, (March 30, 2021).
Haitham El-Tabei, “Bahrain’s Jews Worship In Public For First Time In Decades,” International Business Times, (September 13, 2021).
Damian Pachter, “Foreign Minister Lapid arrives in Bahrain to sign deals, open embassy,” Israel Hayom, (September 30, 2021).
“Israel and Bahrain agree ‘Joint Warm Peace Strategy,’” BICOM, (February 16, 2022).
Debbie Mohnblatt, “Israel Reportedly Deployed Radars to the UAE and Bahrain, Angering Iran,” Media Line, (June 13, 2022).
“Bahrain, Israeli health bodies to collaborate on research,” Jerusalem Post, (May 9, 2022).
Mohammed Hamad, “Israel opens Bahrain embassy, three years after normalising ties,” Reuters, (September 4, 2023).