*This article was originally printed in the "Times of Israel" on June 24, 2023. See it here.
The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago and the State of Israel have enjoyed diplomatic relations since 1962 when they mutually recognized each other on Trinidad’s Independence Day. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, sent an independence gift, an English translation of the Hebrew Bible printed by the Jerusalem Bible Publishing Company, to Trinidad & Tobago’s first Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams. The personal inscription in English read:
To my friend and colleague, Dr Eric Williams, Premier of Trinidad and Tobago, Who shares our love of freedom and our faith in the supremacy of the spirit. David Ben Gurion. Jerusalem, Israel. Eve of Trinidad and Tobago Independence Day. August 30, 1962.
This gift was sent after Dr Williams had visited Ben Gurion in Jerusalem, Israel, on an official state visit, from June 10th to 15th, 1962, two weeks after Trinidad & Tobago seceded from the West Indies Federation. The visit led to Israel formalizing its support for the Trinidadian move to independence from the United Kingdom.
The warm ties between the countries continued under successive governments, with Prime Minister Patrick Manning being the last head of government to meet with Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Israel on an official state visit in November 2005, before the latter experienced a stroke and went into a permanent vegetative state in 2006.
Trinidad & Tobago’s historical foreign policy approach to Israel
As a small, non-aligned country, which was wholly dependent on – and not a member of –the OPEC to set oil and gas prices, Trinidad & Tobago, from 1962 to 2010, adopted a foreign policy position of neutrality when it came to the issue of Israel at international forums, abstaining from any biased condemnations of Israel at the United Nations. While the Trinidad & Tobago citizens who supported Israel preferred a pro-Israel stance, the position of neutrality was a wise one, given Trinidad & Tobago’s precarious position within the family of oil- and gas-producing nations, many of whom held anti-Israel positions at the time.
Today, Trinidad & Tobago and Israel continue to share diplomatic relations; and substantial ties continue largely through the security sectors of both countries. In 2022, trade between both countries stood at US$3.38 million; an increase from US$1.26 million in 2021.
Trinidad & Tobago’s Israel stance today
Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s visit to Israel in 2005 represented the pinnacle of the relations between the countries. During Manning’s visit, he and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon discussed several initiatives to deepen ties. Indeed, the security relationship remains today.
However, he last two administrations in Trinidad & Tobago, have chosen to vote against our ally – Israel – during some resolutions at the United Nations: a marked change from our previous stance of neutrality. This change in foreign policy is worrisome to those of us who have pro-Israel views. It is hinged upon two factors: wide-ranging ignorance in the government and opposition about what Israel is, particularly in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts; and, both the government and opposition hoping to capitalize on the votes of the Muslim community in Trinidad & Tobago – which represents just around 5% of the population – and thus downplaying the relationship with Israel, and even holding back from deepening those ties.
Understanding Israel Foundation: Trinidad & Tobago’s Israel lobby
With this in mind, the Understanding Israel Foundation has been formed, and it intends to lobby for a realignment of Trinidad & Tobago’s foreign policy vis a vis Israel: that is, 1. for Trinidad & Tobago to adopt a more robust public relationship with our sister-country, Israel, 2. for Trinidad & Tobago to adopt a pro-Israel stance on the world stage; and, 3. to deepen the relationship between the governments and people of Trinidad & Tobago and Israel.
As it stands, approximately 12% of the population of Trinidad & Tobago identifies as fully evangelical, Pentecostal and/or Full Gospel, while an additional estimated 11% of the population may be termed as evangelical-adjacent, as they affiliate with the evangelical movement to some degree: be it regularly or irregularly attending evangelical churches whilst remaining nominally a part of another stream of Christianity; or, regularly viewing American evangelical television content. With the evangelical movement being largely pro-Israel, many of these persons would also hold positive views of Israel, and would be supportive of efforts to realign Trinidad & Tobago’s official foreign affairs approach to Israel.
The Understanding Israel Foundation, therefore, seeks to coalesce the pro-Israel voices on the islands into a cohesive voting bloc: to influence changes to government policy and open up avenues for broader economic, business, cultural, technological, academic, medical, and agricultural trade and exchanges. Trinidad & Tobago citizens who support Israel and who align with the mission of the Understanding Israel Foundation, are invited to join the Foundation’s Membership. This way, they can use their voting voice to be heard by the government and the opposition. Joining the Understanding Israel Foundation would allow all pro-Israel Trinidad & Tobago citizens an avenue to reshape the country’s relationship with Israel.
As a small nation in the Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago is at a crossroads in its history. With the closure of the national oil refinery – Petrotrin, the downturn in the economy, foreign exchange shortages and with few diversification opportunities on the horizon, Trinidad & Tobago has much to gain from cultivating closer bureaucratic and people-to-people ties with Israel, a country which is well-attested to investing in, trading information and supporting its closest allies.
Because of the peculiarities of Israel’s existence in relation to its neighbors, many governments and people were once hesitant to deepen ties. However, the blossoming of numerous peace deals since 1979 has expanded Israel’s diplomatic relations with the Arab and Muslim world. Israel has open, peaceful and robust alliances with Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco which demonstrates unequivocally that Israel is a stabilizing force and a partner for peace in the Middle East. Relations between Israel and the Arab world are only slated to become stronger and deeper: Sudan is currently finalizing its peace deal with Israel; ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia are robust behind the scenes with much present talk of a potential peace deal. With this wave of goodwill toward Israel, it would only be in Trinidad & Tobago’s interest to officially stand with Israel, and to shift its foreign policy to one which is decidedly pro-Israel and one which can benefit from deepened ties.
The Bible promises, “Whoever blesses Israel is blessed” (Number 24:9); blessing Israel with support in the international arena, Trinidad & Tobago will receive tangible blessings in the form of Israeli assistance expertise in many areas, an opening into the Israeli market of nine million persons, and the continuation of the bonds of “our love of freedom and our faith in the supremacy of the spirit” which characterized Prime Minister Ben Gurion’s message to the people of Trinidad & Tobago on the eve of its independence in 1962.
Welcome to the Understanding Israel Foundation.