Bahrain Lawmakers Vote to Ban Citizens From Having Relations With Israelis

Bahrain's elected lower house of parliament passed a bill Tuesday banning citizens from having any relations with Israelis, even as the government has called for increased contact with Israel.

The bill will likely stall in the upper house of parliament, which is filled with government supporters.

The measure was put forward by the conservative religious lawmakers and calls for 10 years in jail for anyone doing business or traveling to Israel.

"We believe that establishing contacts with the Zionist enemy is an offense punishable by law," said Nasser al-Fadhallah, a conservative lawmaker.

He said it would be "embarrassing for the government" if the bill — which will be transferred to the upper house sometime in November — is postponed or blocked because it would be obstructing the will of the Bahraini people.

Bahrain has no diplomatic relations with Israel, but the country's foreign minister created a stir last year when he said that Middle East nations should form a regional organization that includes Israel and Iran to try to resolve their disputes.

Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab nations that have peace deals with Israel. Other Arab nations have said they won't establish ties with Israel until it signs peace deals with the Palestinians and Syria.

The predominantly Shiite Gulf state does have a very small Jewish population, one of whom, Huda Noono, is the country's current ambassador to the United States and Canada.

In 2005 the Bahrain government closed its office tasked with making sure the country complies with the Arab League-boycott of Israeli goods, as demanded by the free trade agreement with the United States.