King Hamad of Bahrain's audience with his former Jewish subjects in London was reported by Leon Symons in the Jewish Chronicle of 14 August. The king is riding a wave of international approval: his tiny kingdom's tolerant image was boosted by the recent appointment of a Jewish ambassador. The loyal Jews of Bahrain have always enjoyed the support of the (Sunni) royal family, but things have not always been rosy, the synagogue remains shut and today there are worrying signs of popular radicalisation. Would Bahrain pass the kippa test - ie could a Jew walk the streets wearing a kippa (skullcap) without attracting hostility?
"The historic appointment of his country's first Jewish ambassador appears to have prompted the King of Bahrain to learn more about his Jewish subjects. So last week, he came to London to meet a few of them.
"There are officially only 37 Jews in King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's island kingdom, one of whom, Houda Nonoo, has become the new ambassador to Washington. An even higher number - 45 - of Jewish Bahrainis are ex-pats who live in Britain.
"So a plan was formed that the next time King Hamad was visiting London, he would meet a group of them. Thus, last Friday, he met the business people, the authoress, the accountant and many more at London's Dorchester Hotel in an audience that lasted more than an hour and spoke volumes for one tiny Arab country's race relations.
Huda Nonoo, Victor Sweiry and King Hamad (photo: Jewish Chronicle)
"The King himself obviously enjoyed the occasion, professing pride that Bahrain was the first Arab country to appoint a Jewish ambassador to anywhere, let alone Washington. The appointment of businesswoman Mrs Nonoo, a member of Bahrain's Shura Council, the upper chamber of parliament, was seen as ground-breaking in the Arab world.
"The thing was no-one knew about Houda," said the King. "We never take notice of religion. It is citizens that count. It is nothing to do with Israel. It is our normal business with America."
"Speaking of the meeting with his ex-pats, King Hamad said it was simply business as usual: "I see it as normal. They are all Bahrainis and they like to come here to live. I came here to see them. This is the kingdom of tolerance." He gave an ever-widening smile.
"The King eschewed the traditional dish-dasha (robe) and shumagg (headdress) in favour of a tan-coloured suit, striped shirt and striped tie.
"When he arrived, the guests were ushered into a room to meet him individually. Later, flanked by his prime minister - who is also his uncle - he spoke to his guests in Arabic for about 15 minutes, welcoming them and telling them he had reactivated a law that allowed them to hold dual Bahraini-British citizenship.
"He said he was very proud of his Jewish subjects, who "have been model citizens". He expressed disappointment that Bahrain's one synagogue was not open and operating."