Pulp friction

Ban on date imports said to pit UAE against Israel’s Agriculture Ministry

Relations sour as delivery of Emirati national fruit recently turned back in accordance with plant protection regulation, in what Abu Dhabi calls ‘deviation from diplomatic norms’

Dried dates sold at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on August 25, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Dried dates sold at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on August 25, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A ban on date imports to Israel has sparked anger in the United Arab Emirates, which has regularly sent its national fruit over for use at its embassy and ambassador’s residence since relations were forged in 2020, a report said Thursday.

According to Channel 12 news, a recent 100kg delivery of Emirati dates, which are exclusively used for diplomatic events and never sold commercially, was returned to the UAE in accordance with a ban by the Agriculture Ministry.

In response to Abu Dhabi’s request to resolve the issue, the ministry’s director-general, Oren Lavi, told UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohammad Al Khajah in a letter that pitted dates could be brought in with permission, but dates with pits were forbidden and he must avoid importing them as he has done in the past, the report claimed.

The ministry later said in a statement to Channel 12 that the ban has been longstanding, denying that the director-general had sent such a letter. It stated that the importing of dates with pits was forbidden as it could lead to the spread of pests and diseases that could harm Israeli agriculture.

“This is not a new requirement, and the Agriculture Ministry is not aware of previous imports of dates with pits. If there were, they were brought in without permission of the ministry,” it said.

“We apologize for the inconvenience to the embassy, but the danger to Israeli agriculture means harm to Israel’s food security. The issue was even explained to the ambassador. It should be emphasized these are purely professional considerations stemming from plant protection regulations and the director general of the Agriculture Ministry never sent a letter on the subject,” the statement read.

UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohammad Al Khajah at the opening ceremony of the United Arab Emirates embassy in Tel Aviv, July 14, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The UAE’s Foreign Ministry told Channel 12: “We are unsure what is behind this insult to the embassy of the United Arab Emirates and behind this deviation from diplomatic norms.”

The UAE, a prominent and influential Gulf state, is one of few Arab nations with official diplomatic ties with Israel, which it has maintained through the ongoing months-long war in Gaza, although relations appear to have become frayed.

Sources have said that Abu Dhabi’s relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fractured over the military campaign, with Emirati officials now rarely speaking with him.

The UAE has frequently criticized Israel over the war although it has asserted that diplomatic ties have allowed it to get aid into the Gaza Strip amid the humanitarian crisis there.

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