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December 14, 2017 1:23 pm

Interfaith Delegation From Bahrain Visits Israel, Draws Criticism in Arab World

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Members of the delegation. Photo: Simon Wiesenthal Center. – An interfaith delegation from Bahrain is visiting Israel during Hanukkah in an unprecedented trip.

On Tuesday night, the group attended a menorah lighting ceremony in the Old City of Jerusalem to mark the first night of the holiday.

The diverse delegation, which arrived in Israel on Sunday, consists of 25 members representing the country’s Sunni Muslim, Shi’a Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Sikh communities.

Although the trip’s organizers stated that the group’s three-day trip to Israel was non-political, the delegation was heavily criticized in Arab countries.

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“We have nothing to do with politics,” Betsy Mathieson, president of the “This is Bahrain” interfaith organization, told The Associated Press.

The Bahraini group’s visit comes amid the ongoing emergence of quiet, unofficial ties between Israel and Arab states due to mutual concern over the threats posed by Iran. The delegation was facilitated by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish-run global human rights organization.

Bahrain does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. But in September, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa condemned the Arab world’s boycott of Israel, saying Bahraini citizens are free to visit the Jewish state. The king’s comments came in a declaration of worldwide religious tolerance that was also facilitated by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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