JERUSALEM – An interfaith group from the Gulf state of Bahrain is paying an unprecedented public visit to Israel this week, receiving a warm welcome but generating uproar across the Arab world.
The visit comes at a time when Israel is boasting of warming, albeit covert, ties with moderate Arab countries in a shared front against archrival Iran. But the heavy criticism unleashed on Arab social media, along with the low profile the group has taken, shows the limits on how far that goodwill can go.
The 25 participants, who include Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as well as Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, flew to Israel on Sunday as guests of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a U.S.-based Jewish human rights group. The group gathered Tuesday at a restaurant overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City walls for dinner and a candle-lighting ceremony marking the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
While organizers and participants said the three-day trip was nonpolitical and unconnected to the Bahrain government, it nonetheless is a possible test case for other Gulf Arab nations in seeing what could happen if they move toward recognizing Israel.
“People have been asking us, ‘Oh why have you been here now, after there was an announcement made by the White House,'” Betsy Mathieson, president of This is Bahrain, told The Associated Press, referring to President Donald Trump’s declaration last week that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The move enraged the Palestinians, who seek the city’s eastern half as…