In a discussion with the Israel Gulf Report, Nir Boms, a Research Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University and co-chairman of Israel-UAE policy forum, talks about exciting new developments with Bahrain.
“Today I met Sheikh Khaled bin Khalifa al-Khalifa along with a delegation of Bahrainis from the King Hamed Global Center for peaceful coexistence.”
Can you describe how this came about?
“In the last few weeks and months we have spoken a lot about the UAE which is important and significant and they are the larger players and they were there first and much of the attention went in their direction. But it is important to recognize that although Bahrain is smaller and we heard less about the country in the recent weeks, the normalization process there is significant and, has not been completely new. I have met emissaries from Bahrain first here in 2017 in a delegation that became public and received a lot of backlash from anti-normalization forces.
Those I spoke with at the time they were open but said this may not be the time to move forward. I think today, in many ways, we are able to continue conversations that were started from a different perspective and the fact we had a senior representative of an institution affiliated with the King of Bahrain and with civil society is very significant. This particular visit was about making connections in academia, coexistence groups and how we can link societies and they told us about the program they run on dialogue, coexistence and they brought representatives from the Bahai community and the Jewish community – Houda Nonoo, the former ambassador to the US who is Jewish. They also spoke about the renovation of the synagogue there. All of that is a testament to the approach: it is open and willing to engage. In the meeting they said they didn’t want to speak about formalities but rather on how to build programs and get senior leaders involved.
I also know they are making other connections and asking to engage in other realms of work and business. They want to say “we are here and we are completely here” and they are public and this is the time to go. This is an important statement. They pride themselves on progressive ideas, such as saying that ignorance is the enemy of peace; that faith illuminates the path to peace- , those were the messages we heard, along with “let’s get to work” about programs we can do together. They wanted to share what they are doing and try to work together to empower these efforts and steer more of them toward strengthening civil society ties. I want to invite them, as part of work that we do and host events and public discourse at first, and then see students here and participants from academia , writing together and we can do that at the university.”
That sounds like exciting first steps?
“Yes. I was in touch in the past. One of those I saw in this meeting, I had met three years ago and we were not able to do much. It’s good to reach to a different point today. I am a firm believer in the need to engage in civil society. This is the reason I was involved in creating the UAE-Israel policy forum.”
Formal institutional connections will be great
“One advantage with Bahrain, is we can go from top to bottom and that is a rare advantage of that particular system. They opened the King David Hotel especially for this meeting and the whole protocol was very suitable for opening such relations.
The Dayan Center is delighted to further engage and this was an effort in the making. We have to do that on all fronts. It’s great to see we have partners who are committed to a better future in the region. We spoke a lot about the young generation and the young people in the region that are tired of the system that has dominated the region in the last decades and brought turmoil, war and carnage. Many young people see themselves committed and we are determined to build a better future for all of us. The future acceptance of the other and the idea of tolerance is essential to prevent the next conflict.”
Hopefully this will raise awareness throughout region in Arabic
“There is a change in framework of anti-normalization in the region, a growing camp of those who believe normalization is good and it is the only path forward to deal with problems in the future. The Covid crisis gave us a reminder that we can fight together and die together but that we have an alternative of working together so we can live together. If we are able to work together we can save more lives.”