Bahrain: Bahrain appoints Jewish woman as ambassador to the US
"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 AP by telephone.
She 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.
Bahrain - a pro-Western island nation with Sunni rulers and a Shi'ite majority - is a close American ally and hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet.
The Jewish community in Bahrain dates back to ancient times, and the country contains the only synagogue in the Persian Gulf.
Today, there are between 30 and 50 Jewish citizens among a population of some half a million, compared to nearly 600 Jews before the State of Israel was established. The community boasts a synagogue and a small cemetery, though both are usually closed.
"We keep Rosh Hashana and Pessah and the other holidays in our homes," Nonoo said, according to a report by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. "When my son had his bar mitzva, I flew a rabbi over from London for it."
Nonoo has served as legislator in Bahrain's 40-member Shura Council for three years.
The Nonoo family, which owns several business ventures, has long been involved in politics in the country.
The new ambassador's cousin, Abraham David Nonoo, also formerly served in the country's parliamentary council and is considered the unofficial leader of the Jewish community. He politely declined comment when called by The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
29 May 2008
Source: Jerusalem Post
1 June 2008
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights welcomes developments in the country which promote equal opportunity among citizens, regardless of gender, race, or religion, and advocates the empowerment and inclusion of women and ethnic minorities in all aspects of Bahraini life.
However, the appointment of Houda Nonoo to the position of Bahraini Ambassador to the United States raises more worries than hopes.
1. A Mask for Double Standards:
On the heels of criticisms about a decision to ban Bangladeshis from receiving work permits in Bahrain (see: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/2191), it seems the Bahraini authorities are keen to demonstrate their anti-discriminatory policies promoting equality and tolerance by confirming the appointment of a Jewish woman as ambassador. Unfortunately migrants living and working in Bahrain are afforded few legal protections (which are barely enforced), often live and work in terrible, inhumane conditions. They are discriminated against by government officials, who have suggested creating ghettoes in industrial regions of the country to house them. They have been used as scapegoats in the past for the government's own shortcomings in economic policy. (see: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/1764)
No doubt such a decision also hopes to detract attention from the unwritten law of sectarian discrimination in Bahrain, where although the indigenous Shia make up more than 70% of the population, they hold less than 18% of high ranking positions in government institutions. The economic and political disenfranchisement of the Shia has meant that over 95% of the unemployed citizens of working age are Shia. Shia citizens are banned from military and security sector employments, while thousands of mercenary soldiers from Syria, Jordan, and Balouchistan are naturalized and given these jobs. (see:http://www.bahrainrights.org/node/384)
The appointment of another Bahraini female ambassador may also serve to create a false impression about the status of women's rights in Bahrain, where the issue of a Personal Status Code has been used as a bargaining tool to gain concessions from Islamic opposition movements. In Bahrain female migrant domestic workers live in conditions akin to slavery under the kafala system, spousal rape is not considered a crime according to local laws, women hold only 9% of high ranking positions in government institutions, and Bahraini women married to non-Bahraini spouses cannot pass their citizenship onto their children, while Bahraini men can. (see: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/1934)
2. Miss Nonoo's part in the Bahraini Authorities' Sectarian Agenda ("Bandergate"):
The BCHR is extremely concerned by the link between Miss Nonoo and the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS), a GONGO, which she is heading.
The BHRWS was shown to be receiving payments from a network of officials under the organization of former CIO head Ahmed Ateyatallah with the intention of further altering the demographic of Bahrain, disenfranchising Shias, inflaming sectarian tensions, marginalizing the opposition in Parliament, and weakening civil society through false civil society groups. The network worked through a media group, a number of false NGOs, an internet sites monitoring group, an electronic voting group, and by supporting electoral candidates financially.
The work of the false NGOs was to discredit the work and reputation of real human rights groups, and indeed the BHRWS repeatedly clashed with other local human rights groups both locally and on regional and international panels. (see:http://www.bahrainrights.org/node/586) BHRWS was rejected by a United Nations panel on Racial Discrimination at the UNCOHR in Geneva because of their position as a GONGO. Miss Nonoo herself implemented a campaign to discredit the work of BCHR members in a series of meetings with officials in Washington in 2005.
3. Dangerous Results of a Political Decision:
As with the decision to ban Bangladeshis from working in Bahrain, this move may also have negative repercussions among Bahraini society by igniting tensions between communities. Bahrain has drawn attention really by its policies of discrimination against the Shia majority, migrant workers, and the status of women's rights. It's longstanding relationship with the United States has been criticized by members of the US government because of Bahrain's position towards Israel, which was raised during the process of negotiating the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, and also its treatment of ethnic and religious minorities.
Based on this, the move to appoint Miss Nonoo can be seen as a public relations oriented political decision, which the BCHR worries will carry grave repercussions among the local community. Not only is the Bahraini government using Miss Nonoo to give an impression of a tolerant society with equal opportunities for all, but also to improve its position among the Jewish lobby in the US.
In Bahrain there is a continually diminishing level of trust citizens have for their government (particularly after the 'Bandergate' incident and its aftermath), and widespread negativity towards the United States government because of its policies and action in the region, namely its massive support for oppressive regimes and violations of the state of Israel against the Palestinians.
Because of these factors, as well as her known involvement in the government agenda against its people, Ms Nonoo risks being seen as a stooge of the Bahraini authorities, or even a Jewish stooge of the American administration. Again, this will cause further damage to communal relations in Bahrain, which are repeatedly exacerbated by government actions. Jews and Muslims have lived peacefully in Bahrain for centuries, and it would be a great shame to see these relations damaged because of a public relations stunt by the government.
Based on this, the BCHR rejects the politically motivated manipulation of Miss Nonoo's status as a woman and member of an ethnic minority group in her appointment to the position of Ambassador to the United States.
+Bahrain should implement an honest policy of inclusion for all citizens, including ethnic minorities, women, and regardless of religion
+ The Bahraini authorities should take real and well considered steps towards promoting equal opportunities and tolerance in Bahrain.
+ This includes reviewing policies and practices towards women, the indigenous Shia population, ethnic and religious minorities, and migrant workers in Bahrain, and honoring its commitments towards the various UN treatises and conventions it has already ratified.
+ To investigate thoroughly and transparently the documents and findings contained in the report released by Dr. Salah Al-Bander, the former consultant of the government.
--The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights
--Bahrain Human Rights Society
--Youth Society for Human Rights
--Committee of Victims of Torture
--Women's Petition Committee