Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that a wave of anti-Semitism and what he called “Islamization” in Western Europe are factors in the government’s push to expand trade with Asia.
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Europe is Israel’s biggest trading partner, but deepening diplomatic disputes over policy toward the Palestinians and anti-Jewish incidents such as the January 9 attack by an Islamist gunman on a Paris kosher supermarket have triggered Israeli worries.
Netanyahu, a free-market champion who is acting as interim finance minister, presented his courting of China, India and Japan over the past two years as a partial response to European developments. He was due to host a Japanese government and business delegation led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday.
“Western Europe is undergoing a wave of Islamization, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. It is awash in such waves, and we want to ensure that for years to come the State of Israel will have diverse markets all over the world.”
Europe is Israel’s biggest trading partner and the two sides have long had a free-trade area agreement. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Europe accounted for 35.8% of exports in the first 11 months of 2014, while 25.4% of Israeli exports went to Asia.
Israel increasingly sees Europe as both politically and economically hostile, with the global movement to boycott Israeli businesses more powerful in Europe than in North America or Asia, Israel’s other two big trading partners. The European Union has taken steps to deny FTA privileges to West Bank settlements.
Nevertheless, a report released earlier this month by the Knesset Research and Information Center found no evidence that the boycott movement had any effect on bilateral trade. Israel’s merchandise exports to the EU nearly doubled from an annual average of $7.8 billion in the decade preceding 2005 to $15.6 billion in the nine subsequent years.
The Knesset TV channel aired the results of a poll in which respondents were asked “Can Israel do without exports to Europe and pursue a policy that is liable to bring about an economic embargo?” While a 62% majority said no, a substantial 32% said yes.
Netanyahu, who is stressing his security credentials ahead of the March 17 Knesset election, also said that his government is working to facilitate Jewish immigration, and noted that the Paris attack has stoked French Jewish interest in the option of moving to Israel.