13 June | 2024

Lahore, Pakistan

A nosy tale of Pakistani dates, dry fruit and spices in Israel’s market

Pakistan has maintained its longstanding position of non-recognition of Israel while Israel has been ‘reluctant’ to discuss its relations with countries with whom it does not have formal diplomatic ties

Pakistan has maintained its longstanding position of non-recognition of Israel until an independent Palestinian state is established within the pre-1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital city. On the other hand, Israel has been ‘reluctant’ to discuss its relations with countries with whom it does not have formal diplomatic ties.

It is observed that prolonged ‘diplomatic isolation’ compelled Tel Aviv to use ‘back-channel’ diplomacy. It suited both Islamabad and Tel Aviv to keep their contacts and exchanges under wraps. Record shows that key Pakistani leaders also ‘facilitated’ interactions with Israeli leaders, diplomats or officials. A host of Pakistani and Israeli officials and diplomats have met, but dined any such meeting publically.

These contacts were held primarily in Washington, London or at the United Nations headquarters in New York. At the same time, a number of other locations, such as Rangoon, Kathmandu and Tokyo in Asia, Lagos in Africa, Ankara and Tehran in the Middle East, Caracas and Ottawa in the Americas and Brussels and Rome in Europe also functioned as ‘meeting points’ for Pakistani and Israeli diplomats, according to the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies of the Tel Aviv University.

A number of semi-official and unofficial organizations, as well as prominent, and ordinary Pakistanis have also been in contact with Israeli missions abroad for information or technical assistance. Because of the absence of direct postal connections between Islamabad and Tel Aviv, such requests have been sent to third countries, including Israeli missions in New York or London. Influential Jewish leaders have operated, and funded efforts to further Pak-Israeli normalization.

Fishel BenKhald posted a video clip of Pakistani food products on display in a Jerusalem market

Recently, American Jewish Congress – an association to defend Jewish interests through public policy advocacy – created some [positive and negative] waves on mainstream media as well as social media through its statement that the New York-based organization hailed the ‘first shipment’ from Pakistan of dates, dry fruit and spices offloaded in Israel.

The transaction involved Pakistani business person Fishel BenKhald and three Israeli businesspeople. A trade exhibits – hosted by the United Arab Emirates – helped Pakistani and Israeli business persons conclude a ‘deal’ that enabled Pakistani shipment to Israel, according to the statement. Fishel BenKhald lives in Karachi, where he runs a business for food manufacturers exporting products to destinations worldwide.

Through his Twitter account, he claimed the rare ‘bilateral’ trade between South Asian and Middle Eastern nations that have no diplomatic or trade relations. In Islamabad, the Ministry of Commerce spokesperson said that the press release of the American Jewish Congress was wrongly attributed as it does not make any mention of Pakistan’s official trade relations with Israel.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Foreign Office and Commerce Ministry clearly deny any trade relations with Tel Aviv

“We neither have nor do we intend to start trade relations with Israel,” the ministry said. Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch also denied any trade links with Israel, saying Pakistan does not have diplomatic or trade relations with Israel. Addressing his party’s parliamentary meeting in Islamabad, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif denied rumors that the government in Islamabad had any trade relations with Tel Aviv.

The government had come under pressure for ‘rumors’ spreading on social media that it had resumed trade relations with Israel. In a statement, Commerce and Trade Secretary Sualeh Ahmad Faruqui stated that Pakistan did not send any export consignment to Israel, and any claims suggesting otherwise were merely disinformation for political purposes. According to the ministry, Fishel BenKhald sent food samples to three businesspeople in Jerusalem and Haifa through the United Arab Emirates, where he met them at food exhibitions.

It said the shipment was not supported by the government and no banking or official channel was involved. Fishel BenKhald posted a video clip of his items, including dates, dry fruit and spices, on display in a Jerusalem market. “Food, trade, music and tourism bring people together. Let’s build bridges,” he said. He also said that the Israeli government and buyers have no problem accepting a direct shipment from Pakistan.

He said that Israel does not have a problem sending payments to Pakistani banks. His initiative was mainly praised by his Twitter followers, including politicians, journalists, and businesspeople. Islamabad does not have diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv, but the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain forged relations with Israel in 2020 under the US-brokered Abraham Accords. Sudan and Morocco followed suit.