In the midst of rumours floating on social media regarding his visit to Israel on November 20, Special Assistant to Prime Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari said he has never gone to Israel nor does he intend to.
“I was speaking to World Economic Forum on November 20 and my address was live on Pakistan Television,” Zulfi Bukhari told media in Islamabad today.
Pakistan-Israel relations had become hot topic earlier this month when Noor Dahri, a Pakistani-British national who the founder of the recently established British think tank “Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism, tweeted that a delegation from Pakistan visited Israel on November 20. He had said that an unmanned Special Assistant to Prime Minister was part of the delegation. Following a report by an Israeli newspaper that the visiting special assistant had a British passport, rumours started floating that this person might be Zulfi Bukhari.
Addressing a press conference at the Pakistan Information Department (PID) on Tuesday, Bukhari said: “If any intelligent person looks it up on Google, even before joining politics I had written many articles in support of Palestine. I used to take part in, even sponsor, the million-man marches in favour of Palestine in the UK.”
He went on to say; “as far as visiting Israel is concerned, I have never been to Israel before, nor do I have any interest in visiting Israel. Further, let me assure you no one from our government has ever visited Israel.”
“My lawyer in London has already issued a legal notice to the Middle Eastern newspaper, and we will take them to the court. They have lied, and created a fake controversy to target me,” he added.
Last week the Special Advisor had released a statement in which he rejected the rumours of his visit and called them Indian and Israeli sponsored propaganda.
Earlier, an Israeli newspaper claimed that an adviser of Prime Minister Imran Khan had visited Tel Aviv in November on his British passport. The newspaper alleged that the unnamed advisor was escorted to the “foreign ministry of Israel where he met several political officials and diplomats and delivered the message of the Pakistani PM.”
Media hype on Israel-Pak ties
There has been a steady uptick in news regarding normalisation of Pakistan-Israel in the past couple of months. As early as April 2020, odd and isolated incidents on the subject matter have been coming to the fore.
On April 23, a man going by the name of David Ariel set up a camp in an Islamabad park, sleeping in a tent emblazoned with the Israeli flag, and demanding that Pakistan allow travel to the Middle Eastern state for the sake of the Jewish people living in Pakistan. His camp was removed after a few days and David was arrested.
The conversation picked up in earnest following the signing of Abraham Accords Peace Agreement- a joint statement between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States – formally normalizing UAE’s relationship with Israel on August 13. Bahrain signed a similar agreement soon after.
On August 14 a statement by the Pakistan Foreign Office said: “We have noted the Joint Statement announcing agreement of UAE and Israel to have full normalization of relations. This is a development with far-reaching implications”
“Pakistan has an abiding commitment to the full realization of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination. Peace and stability in the Middle East region is also Pakistan’s key priority,” it added.
On August 16 Prime Minister Imran Khan categorically shut down rumours of any normalisation with Israel, saying Pakistan will not recognise Israel until there is a Palestinian state acceptable to the Palestinians.
However, this did not put an end to the discussion.
On November 23, Kamran Khan – senior journalist and a prominent TV anchor – tweeted “Pakistan must also revisit it’s Israel policy. Message for we Pakistanis from the Custodians of the Holy Mosques and other brothers in the Arab world. “Nations don’t have permanent friends or enemies, only interests” Why is Pakistan shy of exercising its options?”
Another prominent TV anchor and senior journalist, Mubashir Lucman, appeared on a talk show on i24News – an Israeli international 24-hour news television channel located in Tel Aviv – to discuss the possibility of a normalisation as well. He said “I think if Israel and Pakistan ever, ever have to shake hands, it cannot be due to a third party. So when the time comes, if the time comes, we can do it directly.”
Among those advocating for the normalization is Noor Dahri, a Pakistani-British national who the founder of the recently established British think tank “Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism.”
He has been appearing on several Israeli news organizations, alleging that Pakistani and Israeli officials have been clandestinely meeting each other.
On December 21 he retweeted an interview of Pakistani journalist Ahmed Quraishi, who also appeared on i24News, where he claimed that “we are on the cusp of the secret relationship between Pakistan and Israel coming out into the open.”
“Despite not have diplomatic relations both nations have been cooperating at international forums, it is a matter of time before it comes out,” he added.
These obervations are being made despite official contradiction from the Pakistani government.
Following his return from the UAE, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told the press in Multan on December 21 that “I categorically presented Pakistan’s stance on Israel to the UAE’s foreign minister that we will not and cannot establish a relationship with Israel until a concrete and permanent solution to the Palestine issue is found.”