Israeli Minister: Exports to Russia Will Continue, Regardless of Sanctions

Yair Shamir cites boycott of produce from West Bank settlements as one of the key reasons he will withstand European pressure.

Olivier Fitoussi

Israel will not stop exporting agricultural products to Russia, even if the EU pressures it to do so because of the sanctions being leveled against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir told Russian media earlier this month.

Speaking to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Shamir said one of the reasons Israel would resist any pressure was the European Union’s boycott on produce from settlements in the West Bank.

At the end of July, the 28 EU nations imposed severe sanctions against Russia because of what the West says is its efforts to destabilize Ukraine. The sanctions targeted Russia’s financial services, energy and defense sectors. A week later, Russia responded by stopping all agricultural imports from the EU.

In interviews to Russian media outlets on September 10, Shamir said Israel is interested in filling the resulting vacuum. He said Israel would continue to export produce to Russia, even if the EU pressured it to stop.

“First of all I don’t feel [pressure] and I don’t see it,” Shamir said. “Take into account that lately the Europeans have been putting some boycotts on our products. So [is that] how it goes? They put a boycott on us and we will not help somebody else? They can’t. They can’t on the one hand stop [Israeli] sales to Europe, and on the other [ask us to] stop sales to Russia. That doesn’t work together. They have to decide,” he added.

Shamir described the European sanctions against Russia as an opportunity for Israel, stressing that Israel is prepared to triple its agricultural exports to Russia – from the current $325 million a year to $1 billion annually.

“If they come to us and say, ‘Well, we will not do any boycott [of settlement products], then maybe we can negotiate,” Shamir said. “But I don’t think the Israeli government will go for that.

“Even if the sanctions [on Russia] are reduced, I believe our products will continue to flow into Russia,” he added. “It will be easier to deal with us, it will be cheaper and more stable, and with no political price tag for what you do and what you don’t.”

Shamir’s remarks also appeared on the Russian government news agency website in English, and quickly reached senior officials at EU headquarters in Brussels, who raised the issue with Israeli diplomats.

After Israeli envoys in Brussels reported the matter to Jerusalem, senior Foreign Ministry officials met with senior Agriculture Ministry officials and told them that because of the sensitivity of the Ukraine issue and the ongoing talks with the EU about boycotting settlement products, it would be best to avoid such comments in the future.

Shamir’s office issued this statement: “The minister did not express an opinion, nor does he intend to intervene in the dispute between Russia and the European Union. The minister works to expand agricultural exports to Russia, just as he does in other markets to realize Israel’s economic potential. And he will continue to do so on a commercial basis, not on a diplomatic basis.”