Bahrain: Culture minister sacked for refusing to shake hands with Israeli envoy

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  July 24, 2022

Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa was dismissed after snubbing the Israeli envoy at a US ambassador’s home.

The head of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities was sacked from her post after refusing to shake hands with the country’s Israeli ambassador earlier this month, Doha News has reported. 

Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, who was well-known for her opposition to normalisation with Israel, was dismissed after the incident, which took place on 16 June at the home of the US envoy to Bahrain, Stephen Bundy.

A number of ambassadors and officials had gathered at Bundy’s home for a funeral reception to mark the passing of his father. During the event, Sheikha Mai was reportedly introduced to the Israeli ambassador but withdrew her hand, in what was considered a politically motivated snub. According to reports, Sheikha Mai left the US ambassador’s home and requested that photos of her at the memorial not be published. 

Days later, King Hamad bin Isa announced that Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa had been appointed as the new president of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities. 

Sheikha Mai, who also heads The Sheikh Ibrahim Centre for Culture and Research, was reportedly out of the country at the time of the announcement. Last year, Sheikha Mai hosted Ilan Pappe, an anti-zionist professor and author, at the centre for a symposium that was criticized as  “a blow” to normalization efforts. 

Bahrain and the UAE normalized relations with Israel in September 2020 in a US-brokered deal during the final months of former US President Donald Trump’s administration. Morocco and Sudan followed suit not long after.

The countries had previously refused to establish relations with Israel in protest of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The agreements shattered a longstanding Arab consensus that there should be no normalization with Israel until it reaches a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.

Both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, have condemned the normalization deals as a “stab in the back” of their people.