New York, NY, March 30, 2023 – Business and trade have the power to bring ideas and people closer, and this week we have seen major steps taken in Israel, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates to expand prosperity and opportunity for everyone in the Middle East.
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. Benkhald is at the heart of a small but growing Pakistani Kosher Food industry that exports kosher food from the Muslim-majority nation to different destinations worldwide. Pakistani and international media widely reported the story and Benkhald posted a video clip of Pakistani food items on display in a Jerusalem market, garnering more than a half-million views.
The move coincided with the United Arab Emirates decision to reduce or remove tariffs on about 96% of goods traded with Israel. Trade exhibits hosted by the UAE helped Pakistani and Israeli businessmen conclude a deal that enabled this week’s Pakistani shipment to Israel.
We welcome this small step that can have wider implications for Israeli and Pakistani economies and for the region at large. In welcoming this development, we recall the legacy of our public diplomacy initiatives in 2005, – spearheaded by our President Jack Rosen, and in partnership with the American Council for World Jewry – that culminated in diplomatic and economic breakthroughs at the time between Israel and Pakistan, two nations that do not have diplomatic ties yet but whose entrepreneurs and technologists have forged ahead in pursuit of common prosperity.
Thanks to this initiative eighteen years ago, constraints and licenses that restricted Israel-Pakistan trade were abolished. On September 12, 2005, Israel announced it removed import licenses for goods from Pakistan. The move followed a meeting between then Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel and Pakistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, on Sept. 1, 2005, that marked the first public high-level political contact between the two nations.
Late Congressman Tom Lantos, then Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, placed that effort in the Congressional Record, including the text of Pervez Musharraf’s speech, then President of Pakistan, to American Jewish leaders that acknowledged Mr. Rosen’s initiative as “an endeavor for mutual understanding in a time of uncertainty and fear.”
The American Jewish Congress remains focused on working with the U.S. Government, the leaders of Israel and Pakistan, and partners in the Middle East for a prosperous future for all.