Here is something very important for the policymakers of Bangladesh to note. While it is illegal for any Bangladeshi national visiting the Jewish State using Bangladesh passport, a large number of tourists from Egypt, Jordan (the only Arab countries with which Israel has full diplomatic ties), Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Qatar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia visited Israel in 2018. When all of us know, Malaysia under the premiership of anti-Semitic Mahathir Mohamad is extremely sympathetic towards the Palestinians and while Kuala Lumpur has no relations with Jerusalem, even Mahathir does not stop his citizen from visiting Israel. And of course, Arab nations like Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in particular, which have always been supportive of their ‘Palestinian Arab brethren’, they too do not have any travel ban on their citizen in visiting Israel. Then why Bangladesh is really continuing such ridiculous policy? Are we more Christian than the Jesus or more Muslim than Prophet Mohammed?
According to media reports, in 2018, a record number of visitors from Muslim countries visited Israel, including nearly 55,000 from countries that have no diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.
According to figures provided by the Population and Immigration Authority on Monday, 72,109 citizens of Egypt and Jordan (the only Arab countries with which Israel has full diplomatic ties), Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Qatar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia visited Israel in 2018.
These numbers mark an increase of 15 percent from the previous year, when 62,658 tourists from the aforementioned countries traveled to the Jewish state.
In 2018, 12,363 Jordanians and 4,947 Egyptians visited Israel, along with 54,799 citizens of the remaining countries that do not have formal relations with the Jewish State.
A whopping 37,555 Indonesians visited Israel last year, marking a five percent increase from 2017. In October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the world’s most populous Muslim nation was “very important” to Israel.
Two months later, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem expressed its “most profound sympathies” to victims of a devastating tsunami that killed 280 people in Indonesia.
Perhaps surprisingly, the second-largest contingent from countries that don’t have ties with Israel came from Malaysia, a non-Arab Muslim-majority nation that made headlines earlier this year for banning Israelis from a Paralympic swimming tournament.
After Israel slammed the move as “shameful,” Malaysia lost the right to host the competition, but defiantly said it would not compromise on its decision “on the ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight.”
Nearly 14,000 Malaysian nationals came to Israel in 2018 — 4,000 more than the previous year.
Residents of Arab countries visit Israel in significantly lower numbers. Only 2,108 Moroccans, 949 Tunisians, 81 Qataris, 56 Omanis, 36 Algerians, 34 Kuwaitis, 25 Emiratis and six Saudis made their way to the Jewish state last year.
While the number of visitors from Qatar has significantly increased from previous years — in 2017, only 15 came — the numbers from Saudi Arabia are down, from 11 in 2017.
Upon entering the country, tourists from Muslim countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel — most of whom are thought to focus their trips on visits to religious sites — can ask Population and Immigration Authority officials not to stamp their passports, lest they face reprisals when they return. Instead, the Israeli officials stamp a separate slip of paper that the visitors can throw out when they leave. But of course, those Muslim nations could know about their citizen visiting Israel and never exhibit the nefarious wronghood of either charging them under Passport Violation law or even worst as our editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury was treated by the Islamist coalition government of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). Bangladesh authorities brought false charges of sedition, treason and blasphemy against him for the ‘crimes’ of confronting radical Islam and jihad; for denouncing anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial; for promoting interfaith harmony; and for defending Israel and his attempt of visiting the Jewish State.
Commenting on the record number of tourists visiting Israel in 2018, Mr. Choudhury said, “This certainly is an encouraging sign but at the same time I want to believe, countries like Saudi Arabia, for example will establish relations with Israel soon. At the same time, in my opinion, Bangladesh would find its best partner in Israel when it is question of countering radical Islamic militancy. Since we already are under Islamic State (ISIS) threat and as we also anticipate pro-jihadist parties like Jamaat, for example may make any attempt of sabotage, it is essential for Dhaka to immediately lift the travel ban thus helping Bangladeshis in establishing people-to-people contacts with the Jewish State”.
Sohail Choudhury is the Executive Editor of Blitz