Once Faisel Benkhald, now Fishel, this Pakistani’s Jewishness is unrecognized by his country. (courtesy Fishel Benkhald)
Pakistan on Sunday denied rumors of trade with Israel following a Jewish businessman’s tweet about successfully exporting 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 kosher food shipment to Israel. The two countries do not have diplomatic ties.
“Congratulations to me as a Pakistani. I exported the first batch of Pakistan food products to [the] Israel 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 fruit, and spices with product tags in Hebrew.
Pakistan denied having any diplomatic or trade relations with Israel. “There is no change in the policy,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch told media in response to queries about bilateral trade.
Pakistan officially backs a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and has a 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.
Pakistan’s Commerce Ministry said rumors of bilateral trade were “sheer propaganda.”
“Neither do we have any trade relations with Israel nor do we intend to develop any,” it said in a statement.
Benkhald, who is part of a dwindling Jewish community in the Muslim majority-nation 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 have officially performed a pilgrimage there with the permission of Islamabad.
“Food, trade, music, and tourism bring people together. Let’s build bridges,” Benkhald said in his tweet.
Benkhald sent food samples to three businesspeople in Jerusalem and Haifa through 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 Pakistan government and no banking or official channel was involved.
Illustrative: A Pakistani peace delegation visits the Western wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, September 21, 2022. (Ash Obel/Times of Israel)
The American Jewish Congress earlier welcomed news of the shipment, saying it could have wider implications for the two countries’ economies and the region at large. It said Benkhald was at the heart of a small but growing Pakistani kosher industry exporting food to different destinations.
But there were mixed opinions in Pakistan about Benkhald’s venture. Shireen Mazari, a key leader from ex-prime minister Imran Khan’s party and former minister for human rights, 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 had been permitted to visit Israel during Khan’s tenure.
Amid reports of an exchange of goods between Pakistan and Israel, Pakistan strongly rejected the reports of trade relations with Israel and termed that such information was sheer propaganda.
The Foreign Office (FO) and the Ministry of Trade and Commerce denied on Sunday having made any trade with the middle-eastern nation.
Issuing a clarification over the purported trade, Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said that Pakistan does not have diplomatic or trade relations with Israel. “There is no change in the policy,” she stressed.
She stated that the rumours about beginning of Pakistan-Israel trade are sheer propaganda after the press release of American Jewish Congress which was misrepresented.
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce said that the AJC’s press release was wrongly attributed as it does not make any mention of Pakistan’s official trade relations with Israel.
“Rumours about beginning of Pakistan-Israel trade are pure propaganda. We neither have nor do we intend to start trade relations with Israel,” the spokesperson said.
On March 30, the American Jewish Congress released a statement on “trade between the State of Israel and Pakistan” claiming that the first shipment from the country had been received in Israel.
Courtesy: AP and news agencies
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