With Europe becoming increasingly hostile toward Israel and Jews, the Jewish state needs to diversify its markets, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet Sunday, just hours before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe landed for the first visit by a Japanese premier in nine years.
“Western Europe is undergoing a wave of Islamization, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism,” said Netanyahu. “These waves are washing over it, and we would like to ensure that the State of Israel will have varied markets around the world.”
Asia outstripped the US in 2014 as Israel’s second-largest trading partner, with the European Union, however, still at the top of the list.
Since coming to power in 2009, Netanyahu has been pushing for stronger ties with Asia, largely because of the economic recession that struck Europe.
His words Sunday were his strongest to date that Israel needs to put its economic eggs in different baskets not only because of economic reasons in Europe, but also because of anti-Israel feelings, anti-Semitism and Islamization in certain segments of the continent.
Abe arrived in Israel with a delegation of 100 top businessmen and government officials.
Soon after landing he met with Netanyahu, and they took part in a science and business forum.
At the beginning of their meeting, Netanyahu said Abe’s visit was a “historic opportunity” to couple Israeli and Japanese capabilities.
“I think there are many economic areas, technological areas and other areas in which we can cooperate,” he said, “and I look forward to doing that for the benefit of both our peoples.”
Abe echoed his Israeli counterpart’s sentiments.
“We are now seeing steady progress in [the] development of our bilateral relationship in a comprehensive manner,” he said. “And among all the areas [in which] we are working closely, the economy is the one area which has the greatest potential for advancement of the bilateral relations.”
Abe and Netanyahu will hold diplomatic talks tomorrow, and will meet for a dinner together with their wives in the evening.
Abe is also scheduled to meet President Reuven Rivlin and visit Yad Vashem, as well as go to the Palestinian Authority.
Before meeting Abe, Netanyahu told the cabinet that when he was in Japan last year, he found a common desire to “tighten relations, increase trade and increase investments between Israel and Japan.
This fits in with my clear vision to vary our markets.”
Netanyahu said his trip to China in 2013, as well as his meeting in September in New York with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the current visit by Abe, were part of his attempts to expand Israel’s trade to eastern markets.
“I emphasize eastern markets not because we want to give up on other markets, but we certainly want to decrease our dependence on certain markets in Western Europe,” he said.
During the first day of Abe’s visit, the two countries decided in principle to expand their science cooperation, with representatives of each country signing a memorandum of understanding on the matter in the presence of the two leaders.
Israel recently approved a decision to expand cooperation with Japan, with enhancing scientific cooperation a major component of the plan.
Judy Siegel contributed to this report.