The History of Jews in the Persian Gulf

Although there were Jews living in the Arabian Peninsula in Mohammad’s time, for most of medieval and modern history the Arab lands surrounding the Persian Gulf—what is now Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Oman—had only small Jewish communities. Nimrod Raphaeli tells their stories:

Unlike the large Jewish communities in Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, and North Africa, the number of Jews in the Gulf countries never exceeded a few hundred in any one country. . . . Most of the Jews who settled in the Gulf countries, primarily in Kuwait and Bahrain, were of Iraqi origin, and many of them were seeking either to escape military conscription under the Ottoman empire or exploring economic opportunities. Of these Jews, only a few have remained, likely only in Bahrain where the Jewish population numbers around 70. A member of that community, Huda Nonoo, was her country’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2008 to 2013—making her the first ambassador of the Jewish faith to represent an Arab country.

Jews held important positions in Ahsaa (currently in eastern Saudi Arabia), notably the post of treasurer of the Ottoman empire, which ruled the area through World War I. The post was held by three successive Jews. . . . During their tenure, many of the entries in the financial books were in “Hebrew” (most likely in Arabic written phonetically in Rashi script, which was commonly used by old-generation Iraqi Jews).

Jews had been living in Muscat since at least 1625. In 1673, according to one traveler, a synagogue was being built, implying permanence. The British officer James Wellsted also noted the existence of a Jewish community when he visited in the 1830s.

Read more at MEMRI

More about: Bahrain, Jewish history, Mizrahim, Oman, Persian Gulf

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount