Pakistan denies it has trade ties with Israel after Jewish businessman touts export

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan on Sunday denied trade rumors with Israel after a Jewish businessman tweeted about the successful export of food samples to Jerusalem and Haifa.

Fishel Benkhald, a Pakistani Jew based in the southern port city of Karachi, went viral for tweeting about his first shipment of kosher food to Israel. The two countries do not have diplomatic ties.

“Congratulations to me as a Pakistani. I exported the first batch of Pakistani food products to [the] The Israeli market,” he said last week.

Benkhald shared a video clip showing his visit to an Israeli market. He walks past stalls with containers of dates, dried fruits, and spices with product tags in Hebrew.

Pakistan denied having any diplomatic or trade relations with Israel. “There is no change in policy,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch told the media in response to inquiries about bilateral trade.

Pakistan officially supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has a long-standing position of not recognizing Israel until an independent Palestinian state is established within the pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. .

Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce said the bilateral trade rumors were “strong rumours”.

“Nor do we have any trade relations with Israel and we do not intend to develop any,” he said in a statement.

Benkhald, who is part of a shrinking Jewish community in the nation’s largest Muslim population of 220 million, formally converted to Judaism from Islam in 2017.

Although a statement on his Pakistani passport says the document is valid for travel to all countries except Israel, he is the first Pakistani to officially make a pilgrimage there with permission from Islamabad.

“Food, trade, music and tourism bring people together. Let’s build bridges,” Benkhald said in his tweet.

Benkhald sent food samples to three businessmen in Jerusalem and Haifa via the United Arab Emirates, where he met them at food exhibitions, according to the Commerce Ministry. The ministry said the shipment was not supported by the Pakistani government and no bank or official channel was involved.

Illustrated: A Pakistani peace delegation visits the Western wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, September 21, 2022. (Ash Obel/Times of Israel)

The American Jewish Congress welcomed the news of the shipment, saying it could have wider implications for the economies of both countries and the wider region. He said Benkhald was at the heart of Pakistan’s small but growing kosher industry that exports food to various destinations.

But there were mixed opinions in Pakistan about Benkhald’s venture. Shireen Mazari, a top leader from former prime minister Imran Khan’s party and former human rights minister, criticized the government and asked how a Pakistani citizen was exporting to Israel directly and visiting the country on a Pakistani passport .

But an interfaith representative from the current administration, Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, said Benkhald was allowed to visit Israel during Khan’s tenure.

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