AFP: Bahrain NGO Visits to Israel to Promote ‘Tolerance’
2017-12-12 - 8:39 p
Bahrain Mirror-AFP: An interfaith group from Bahrain said it has sent a delegation to Israel to promote "tolerance and coexistence," but insisted that it does not represent the government in Manama. The non-governmental organization, which calls itself "This is Bahrain," said it had no official status though its mission statements say it has the backing of King Hamad.
This is the first public visit by a Bahraini delegation to Israel, which Manama - like most Arab capitals - does not recognize.
Reports in Palestinian media said the delegation was banned from visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem Sunday.
The organizer of the trip, however, declined to confirm, and the Islamic body that governs the site said that while no visit took place, they had not explicitly banned them.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center NGO which organized the delegation's visit, said it was made up of 25 interreligious leaders from Bahrain.
"About one-third of them are Muslims, there are Christians and two Buddhists," he told AFP.
"It's not a political visit so there was no request to see politicians."
The visit sparked angry reactions on social media and by other NGOs in Bahrain, especially as it comes within days of U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial decision to recognize occupied Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Bahrain issued a statement, carried by Bahrain's state news agency BNA, insisting the visit was unofficial.
"The delegation, which includes some foreign nationals from different religions residing in the Kingdom of Bahrain, does not represent any official body in the kingdom," it said.
"The delegation represents solely the society and has undertaken the visit on its own initiative."
The NGO, which received its official license in May, said that the trip was part of an initiative to visit several European countries and the United States.
"The initiative ... is based on the principle of tolerance and coexistence, an approach embraced by the Kingdom of Bahrain and a feature of its society, and aims to visit Islamic, Christian, Jewish and other holy sites across the world," it said.
Israeli media published Sunday pictures of the NGO delegation in Jerusalem, triggering angry reactions condemning the visit.
A small protest occurred in the Gaza Strip Monday morning, sparked by apparently false rumors the delegation would visit the Palestinian enclave.
Bahrain's National Islamic Forum branded the visit an act of normalization of ties with Israel and in breach of "Bahrain's established national principles which reject all forms of normalization."
A statement from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which calls for a boycott of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians, "strongly" condemned the cooperation between the "despotic Bahraini regime [and] Israel's regime of occupation and apartheid."
Israel has long faced resistance to its efforts to improve ties with Arab countries because of its 50-year occupation of Palestinian territory. It has, however, recently seen increased behind-the-scenes cooperation with some Arab countries, particularly in their opposition to Iran.
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