How is the Israeli-Emirati group Sharaka encouraging Pakistan to embrace and accept Israel?

Israel and Pakistan have had no formal relations for decades. Every Pakistani passport bears the inscription:

This passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel.

However, an Emirati-Israeli group brought a delegation to Israel in May that included Pakistani nationals and Pakistani Americans. The 15-member delegation appears to be part of an effort to pressure Pakistan into recognizing Israel – something that would violate one of Pakistan’s core political principles since its founding.

Who organized the delegation?

The delegation’s trip was organized by Sharaka, a shadowy group that says it has offices in the United Arab Emirates and Israel that was formed after the so-called Abraham Accords. The Washington-based American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council (AMMWEC) also helped arrange the junket.

Sharaka’s website presents the group as a grassroots, non-governmental initiative “founded by young leaders from Israel and the Gulf to turn the vision of people-to-people peace into a reality.” Sharaka’s Israeli co-founder, Amit Deri, is also the founder of Reservists on Duty, a group of Israeli soldiers dedicated to combating the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement – a campaign promoting Palestinian freedom and equality.

Though it solicits donations through its website, Sharaka is silent about where it obtains the substantial funding that would be needed to finance the various delegations it sponsors. Its website provides no information about where the organization is registered. Sharaka did not respond to a request for comment regarding where it is registered as a nonprofit organization and whether it receives any government funding.

Details of the Delegation’s Trip

Anila Ali, president of AMMWEC and now a board member of Sharaka, led the delegation. A Pakistani-born US citizen, Anila Ali describes herself as a “centrist Democrat” who previously served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

The delegation Anila Ali led met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, to whom Ali gifted a book written by her father – a biography of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a staunch opponent of Zionism. The delegates spoke to the president about their efforts to develop relationships with Israel.

The delegation went to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. They also visited the al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem – a frequent site of attacks by Israeli forces on Palestinian worshippers.

How did the President react?

While speaking to a media outlet, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said:

It was an amazing experience because we haven’t had a group of Pakistani leaders in Israel ever in such scope. And that all stemmed from the Abraham Accords, meaning Jew and Muslims can dwell together in the region, of course with Christians who live in the region and Druze and other religions.

The Delegation Caused an Uproar in Pakistan

The trip caused outrage in Pakistan, where solidarity with Palestine has always been a foundational principle.

The delegation included Pakistani journalist Ahmed Quraishi and Jewish Pakistani Fishel BenKhald. Quraishi was fired from his position at state broadcaster PTV for making the trip. PTV stated:

Persons indulging in cheap publicity should have thought of their national interests first and last. Instead of unacceptable actions, Pakistan Television has terminated the contract of an individual who proceeded to travel to a specific country out of his own accord.

Quraishi, on the other hand, maintained:

The junket was private. I hoped the controversy would help persuade my fellow Pakistanis of the case for relations with Israel. This is the moment really for us to finally have peace with Israel and deal directly with Israel.

In a resolution passed after the trip, the Senate of Pakistan condemned recent Israeli attacks against worshippers at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. And a Pakistani senator called for the revocation of the citizenship of those who went to Israel.

What are the Abraham Accords?

The Abraham Accords were brokered by the Trump administration and are supported by the Biden administration to formalize diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab states. They aim to consolidate military, economic, and political cooperation between Israel and other local American client regimes while putting an end to the Palestinian national liberation struggle.

These efforts are often marketed as promoting “interfaith” cooperation – relying on the misrepresentation that the violence arising from Israel’s belligerent occupation and colonization of Palestinian land is rooted in religious strife. Promoting the myth that Muslim-Jewish disharmony is the root of the conflict is a common tactic used by Israeli propagandists.

Similarly, Israel has long promoted the falsehood that commemoration of the German-led European genocide of millions of European Jews during World War II is inextricably linked to the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Columbia University professor Joseph Massad stated:

Israeli demands that Palestinians and Arabs commemorate the Holocaust are not about the Holocaust at all, but about the other part of the formula, namely recognizing and submitting to Israel’s ‘right to exist’ as a settler-colonial, racist Jewish state.

Will Pakistan-Israel relations improve?

Bringing Pakistani nationals to Israel is an attempt to push Pakistan – a Muslim state with a population of 220 million people and an arsenal of nuclear weapons – towards recognition of and normalization with Israel. Indeed, this issue may be at the heart of recent political turmoil in the country. An April no-confidence vote removed Imran Khan as Pakistan’s prime minister.

Analysts saw Khan’s unwavering solidarity with Palestinians and refusal to warm up to Israel as key motivators for what was effectively a US-backed putsch against him.

Rumours emerged last year that Saudi Arabia had been pushing Pakistan to normalize relations with Israel after Khan was asked about such pressure in a November 2020 interview with local broadcaster GNN. Saudi Arabia is both a key – though informal – ally of Tel Aviv and a major source of financing for Islamabad.

In an interview, when asked about the pressure to recognize Israel, ex-PM Imran Khan said:

The pressure is because Israel has a big influence on America. Now, it was never in our thinking that we can recognize Israel. Since Pakistan’s founding, its policy has been that until Palestinians get their rights and a just settlement, there can never be recognized.

Pakistan’s refusal to cut ties with Russia following the latter’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year may also explain the American animosity towards Khan. Khan went to Moscow just hours after Russian forces entered Ukraine in late February. Although the visit had been pre-planned, the Pakistani leader rebuffed Washington’s efforts to persuade him to cancel it.

Khan also revealed his willingness to buy Russian gas and grain just as the US and EU were pressuring the rest of the world – albeit unsuccessfully – to impose sanctions on Moscow. Following Khan’s removal from office, his replacement as prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, expressed enthusiasm for “deepening” Pakistan’s relationship with the United States.

What does the future hold?

Imperial courtiers in Washington view Khan’s downfall as a golden opportunity to “reset” the US relationship with Pakistan. Similarly, pro-Israel Pakistanis may view this moment as a golden opportunity to fulfil the dream of seeing the Israeli flag fluttering over a Zionist embassy in Islamabad. Regardless of each person’s desires, only time will tell what the future holds for Pakistan in terms of international relations.

Story originally published in The Electronic Intifada.

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