Commerce ministry terms rumours of Pak-Israel trade ‘sheer propaganda’

Published April 2, 2023
A screengrab from a video posted by @Jew_Pakistani of dry fruit he says he exported to Israel.—Fishel BenKhald/Twitter
A screengrab from a video posted by @Jew_Pakistani of dry fruit he says he exported to Israel.—Fishel BenKhald/Twitter

The Ministry of Commerce on Sunday termed rumours regarding trade between Pakistan and Israel as “sheer propaganda” after the “misrepresentation of a statement” issued by the American Jewish Congress (AJC), an association of the Jewish community based in the US.

“The rumours about beginning of Pakistan-Israel trade is sheer propaganda affer (sic) the press release of AJC which was misrepresented,” the ministry said in a statement. “However, neither we have any trade relations with Israel nor we intend to develop any.”

Pakistan does not have diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv, and believes in a “two-state solution in accordance with the relevant United Nations and OIC resolutions as well as international law, with pre-1967 borders and Al-Quds Al-Sharif (Jerusalem) as the capital of Palestine”.

The statement by the commerce ministry comes after Fishel Benkhald, a Jewish Pakistani, tweeted on March 28 that he “exported [the] first batch of Pakistan food products to [the] Israel market.

“Congratulations to me as a Pakistani. I exported first batch of Pakistani food products to Israel market,” Benkhald wrote. “Dates, dry fruits, and a single container of spice.”

In his tweet, he tagged Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, former prime minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and other PML-N leaders including Maryam Nawaz, Ahsan Iqbal and Miftah Ismail.

Subsequently, the AJC released a statement on March 30, saying: “This week, the first shipment of Pakistan-origin food products was offloaded in Israel, in a transaction that involved Pakistani-Jewish businessman Fishel Benkhald, based in Pakistan’s business hub of Karachi, and three Israeli businessmen from Jerusalem and Haifa.

“We welcome this small step that can have wider implications for Israeli and Pakistani economies and for the region at large,” the statement said.

The same day, Voice of America ran a story headlined “Rare Trade Occurs Between Pakistan, Israel”.

Members of the opposition PTI seized on the development, with Farrukh Habib demanding answers from the Foreign Office, commenting if it was part of the “London Plan” — a phrase coined by party chief Imran Khan.

“Under which deal is this trade being done after the regime change? Why is the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government silent on this,” Habib asked on April 1.

That same day, Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Interfaith Harmony and the Middle East Tahir Ashrafi — who was also a part of the Imran Khan government — told state media that Benkhald was permitted to go to Israel by the PTI government.

Talking to APP, he said the Pakistani-Jewish businessman exported some goods including dates, dry fruit, and spices to an Arab friendly country and later on, managed to dispatch them to Israel.

Dispelling the impression that trade ties were being established between Pakistan and Israel, he was quoted as saying: “As per reports, neither the Ministry of Commerce, nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs furnished Fishel any no-objection certificate (NOC).”

Separately, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told Independent Urdu that the incumbent government did not permit anyone to engage in any trade activities with Israel.

“We will conduct an investigation into this,” he said. “Now we are receiving information that in the previous regime, Imran Khan had given similar permission to someone but nothing of this sort has come up to our notice, information, or inquiry right now.”

Today’s the Ministry of Commerce’s clarification said: “Even in their press release (AJC) nowhere mentioned about official trade between Pak-Israel.”

It added: “A Jewish Pakistani Fishel Benkhald has sent food samples to three businessmen in Jerusalem and Haifa through UAE in personal capacity who he met in foreign countries during food exhibitions.

“Nevertheless, it was not supported by the Pakistan government and no banking or official channel was involved either.”

It said that in its talks with the UAE, the “issue of origin will be strictly implemented”. “UAE has curtailed tariffs on 96 per cent goods traded with Israel which has benefited traders from UAE to Israel,” it added.

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