Bahraini king taps Jewish woman lawmaker as envoy to U.S.
Hoda Nono, a legislator in Bahrain's Shura Council, would be the first Jewish ambassador in the Arab world.
Bahrain's state news agency says that King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa issued a royal decree appointing a female Jewish lawmaker to the post of ambassador.
The future posting of Hoda Nono, who was widely tipped earlier this year by Bahraini media as the tiny Gulf nation's next ambassador to Washington, was not officially announced.
Nono has served as legislator in Bahrain's all-appointed 40-member Shura Council for three years. She is the first Jew in the Arab world to become ambassador.
Bahrain - a pro-Western island nation with Sunni rulers and a Shiite majority - is a close Washington ally and hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
"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 The Associated Press 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.
Nono is the first Jewish woman in the Shura Council, which includes a Christian woman among its 11 female legislators. All its members are appointed by the king. The elected 40-member lower house has only one woman lawmaker.
She replaced her cousin Ibrahim Nono, who held the seat in parliament for four years. A businesswoman who lives both in Bahrain and London, Nono also is the first Jewish woman to head a local rights organization, the Bahrain Human Rights Watch.
There are only about seven Jewish families in Bahrain, with some 50 persons in all, and Nono's family is prominent. The country's population barely reaches half a million people.
Jews migrated here in the 19th century, mostly from Iran and Iraq. Their numbers increased early in the 20th century but decreased after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when many left for Israel, the U.S. and Europe.
Today's Jews keep a low profile in Bahrain, working mostly in banks, commercial and trade companies and retail. They live in upscale parts of the country, being part of the wealthy business community.
There is also a synagogue and a private Jewish cemetery here. At the height of the Arab-Israeli war, the synagogue was attacked and torched by angry Muslims.
The structure was later refurbished.
Bahrain has no diplomatic relations with Israel. In 1969, an official Israeli delegation visited Bahrain but protesters burned the Israeli flag in a large street demonstration at the time. In 2006, after Bahrain signed the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., Manama closed down a government office that endorsed a boycott of Israeli goods.
Media reports have speculated that with appointments such as Nono's, Bahrain may be seeking to pave the way to forming ties with Israel.
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