Bahraini minister refused to shake Israeli envoy’s hand, ousted

The Gulf kingdom says the move was just part of a wider cabinet reshuffle.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The head of Bahrain’s Authority for Culture and Antiquities has been ousted due to her refusal to shake the Israeli ambassador’s hand, The Jerusalem Post reported, citing a Friday report in Arab media outlet Rai al-Youm.

Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa attended the funeral last month of the father of U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bundy, but when introduced to Israeli Ambassador Eitan Na’eh, she withdrew her extended hand and left the ceremony.

She also asked the American embassy not to publish any footage of her presence at the funeral service, which took place at the ambassador’s home.

Israel’s foes were quick to praise the member of the royal family for her refusal to acknowledge any normalization with the Jewish state, even though Bahrain has forged ahead with military, business and tourism ties on a large scale since signing the Abraham Accords in 2020.

Supporters tweeted messages like, “Greetings and respect for this authentic Arab position… which undoubtedly expresses the great majority of the Bahraini and Arab peoples.”

A spokesman for the Hamas terrorist organization said the minister’s act was “a true reflection of the sincere Bahraini people’s position in support of the Palestinians” and that all attempts to normalize relations with Israel “will remain unacceptable in the collective Arab consciousness.”

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According to various Arab media outlets, in her professional capacity, Sheikha Mai “had refused to allow Jewish investors to build a Jewish neighborhood from Bab al-Bahrain to the synagogue in Manama.”

Last November, the Sheikh Ibrahim Cultural and Research Center that she runs hosted virulently anti-Israel Jewish historian Ilan Pappe, whose lectures focus on accusing Israel of being a “racist, colonial state” that should not exist.

The kingdom claimed that replacing the long-time minister was simply part of a major cabinet rearrangement.

“The government wishes to emphasize that the former president of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, served in government for over 20 years with distinction,” said the government’s spokesperson in a statement issued in response to the report.

“Wide-ranging changes announced this week within a number of government bodies follow on from the largest cabinet reshuffle in the Kingdom’s history,” the statement continued. “Updates to leadership positions within public sector bodies should not be misinterpreted.”

The ousted minister expressed her gratitude to her supporters, tweeting, “From the bottom of my heart, a thousand thanks for every message I received and only love protects and strengthens us.”

In 2009, Sheikha Mai became the first woman to hold the position of Information Minister in Bahrain.

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King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa appointed her replacement on Thursday.