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Bahraini king would ease return of Jews

Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa met with expatriate Bahraini Jews in New York on Nov. 11, 2008. Ron Kampeas, JTA\’s Washington Bureau chief, asks the king if he believes his reforms, including the naming of a Jewish woman as his U.S. ambassdor, can be replicated in the region. (Ron Kampeas)

Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, right, with his sons, addresses expatriate Jewish Bahrainis at a meeting in New York on Nov. 11, 2008. (Ron Kampeas)

Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, right, with his sons, addresses expatriate Jewish Bahrainis at a meeting in New York on Nov. 11, 2008. (Ron Kampeas)

NEW YORK (JTA) — The king of Bahrain said he would facilitate the return of Jewish expatriates through restored citizenship and land offers.

King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa met in New York Tuesday with about 50 Bahraini Jews who had immigrated to the United States, following a similar meeting in London this summer.

The king said that all expatriate Bahrainis, whatever their religion, were welcome to return.

“It’s open, it’s your country,” he said in New York.

Hamad had reversed a law that banned dual citizenship and was ready to restore the citizenship of Bahrainis who had lost it in the interim, as well as offer it to their children.

“The younger ones can’t remember much, but we want them to know,” he said of Bahraini heritage.

Returning Bahrainis would be eligible for land allocations, the king said.

Hamad is in New York to attend an interfaith conference co-sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the United Nations. He has instituted reforms in recent years, including extending the vote to women. He recently named a Jewish woman, Houda Nonoo, as his ambassador to Washington.

In an interview, Hamad told JTA that he did not expect his reforms to replicate throughout the region.

“What we do in Bahrain is for sure for Bahrain, it’s not to be exported,” he said.

Bahrain has recorded a Jewish presence since the Talmudic era. Its current community of several dozen Jews is descended from Iraqi Jewish merchants who settled in the late ninth century.

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