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Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Israel is a hyper-sensitive issue

Only time will tell whether the recent passport change means anything significant

Update : 26 May 2021, 02:48 AM

When people breathed a sigh of relief for the ceasefire between Palestine and Israel after the recent bloody fighting for 11 days, Bangladesh entered a new debate regarding its restricted diplomatic stand for Israel. 

Some are speculating that the country is going to recognize Israel as an independent country, because the country has removed the old phrase, 50 years old, from the passport mentioning: “This passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel.”


Despite the uproar in this Muslim majority country, Gilad Cohen, deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel, happily tweeted on May 22, 2021: “Great news! #Bangladesh has removed travel ban to Israel. This is a welcome step & I call on the Bangladeshi government to move forward and establish diplomatic ties with #Israel so both our peoples could benefit & prosper.”


Bangladesh responded immediately by saying it had no new policy regarding Israel, the name has been left out from the passport to make it international standard, but foreign policy and the travel bans will remain in place. Home and Foreign Ministries have explained it several times. However, in that case, it is questionable how the government can take legal action against anyone who visits Israel. 

Again, the way some netizens are shouting, it seems that Israel is sitting at the border with a garland of flowers to welcome Bangladeshis, where the current position of Bangladeshi passport in the international ranking is 96. But it is also true that Bangladesh is a significant country for Israel in terms of recognition. If any renowned Bangladeshi tourist visits Israel, they will be able to show it to the world.


Israel has been trying hard to bring Bangladesh closer since the birth of Bangladesh. But, again, Bangladesh has been looking at Israel as a “sensitive” issue since its inception. During the Liberation War, when the Arab countries expressed solidarity with Pakistan and helped Pakistan by opposing the war, the expatriate government of Bangladesh did not hesitate to show solidarity with the Arabs on the Palestinian issue. 


The role of Israel in the Liberation War shouldn’t be ignored. On July 2, 1971, the Israeli parliament passed a resolution condemning the reckless destruction of the Bangalis by the Pakistani military. Even the Israeli Red Cross sent a significant amount of medicine, clothes, and food to Bangali freedom fighters and refugees.


Not only that, Israel was one of the first states to recognize Bangladesh in April 1971. Most of the Arab countries did not show any sympathy for the freedom struggle of the Bangalis, but helped Pakistan. When a helpless person falls into the sea, he wants to survive even if he gets a little support. 

The recognition of Israel here was nothing short of staggering. It was the support of a vital state. Yet, the expatriate government of Bangladesh ignored all sympathy and did not accept it. Bangladesh refrained from any action that could harm the Muslim Ummah even during its worst calamity. This shows how sensitive Israel is in the politics of Bangladesh.


On August 13, 2020, 72 years after the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the Middle East countries, the mutual recognition of the UAE and Israel was like a “geopolitical earthquake.” 

It is not comparable to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem or Yasser Arafat’s handshake with Itzak Rabin on the White House lawn -- yet many believe the relationship is the beginning of a change in Israel’s relationship with the Muslim world. Following in the UAE’s footsteps, Bahrain also established diplomatic relations with Israel a few months later.


Israel’s relations with Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey are old. In 1949, Turkey became the first Muslim state to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. Israel also had diplomatic relations with Iran during the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi, but Iran severed those ties after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, led by spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini. 

However, the Palestinians see this duplicity of the Arabs as a betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa, and the Palestinians. They think this is a stabbing in the back of the Palestinian people.


Many Muslim countries have not established diplomatic relations with Israel since its establishment, expressing solidarity with the Palestinians, and have maintained travel bans. But Israel has no dispute with those countries. Israel has no border with Bangladesh. The states are separated by 5,000 kilometres. 

The situation in Bangladesh is similar to that of Arab interests. But sadly, the Arab states have not been able to use the same strong solidarity as any other state in the Muslim world for the last 73 years. Instead, they have gradually established diplomatic relations with Israel. The future of the Palestinians is becoming uncertain.


At the forefront of the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia, the largest country in the Middle East, has maintained cordial relations with Israel for the past three years. So far, there is no official announcement from the country to build any diplomatic ties with Israel, but this Jewish state became a factor for the country because it has a strong presence in India. 

As far as the passport is concerned, specifying a ban on one single country is unwise. However, only time will tell how long Israel will remain a sensitive issue for Bangladesh, or whether it will remain an issue, as many have never imagined that the word “Israel” would be taken out of the passport.

Anis Alamgir is a journalist and columnist, noted for collecting Iraq and Afghan war news. Contact: [email protected].

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