Netanyahu eyes Asian markets, cites anti-Israel mood in Europe

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint news conference in Jerusalem January 19, 2015. REUTERS/Tsafrir Abayov/Pool (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS)

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday a wave of anti-Semitism and what he called "Islamisation" in Western Europe are factors in a Jewish state push to expand trade with Asia.

Europe is Israel's biggest trading partner, but deepening diplomatic disputes over policy toward the Palestinians and anti-Jewish incidents such as a Jan. 9 attack by an Islamist gunman on a Paris kosher deli have triggered Israeli worries.

Netanyahu, who is also finance minister and a free-market champion, cast his courting of China, India and Japan over the past two years as a partial response to European developments.

He was due to host a Japanese government and business delegation led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday.

"I put emphasis on markets to the East not because we want to give up on other markets. But we definitely want to reduce our dependence on certain markets in western Europe," Netanyahu told his cabinet in remarks at which reporters were present, without naming specific countries.

"Western Europe is undergoing a wave of Islamisation, of anti-Semitism, and of anti-Zionism. It is awash in such waves, and we want to ensure that for years to come the State of Israel will have diverse markets all over the world."

Netanyahu, who is stressing his security credentials ahead of a March 17 election in Israel, said his government was also working to facilitate Jewish immigration. The Paris attack has stoked French Jewish interest in the option of moving to Israel.

According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, Europe accounted for 45.8 percent of imports and 35.8 percent of exports in the first 11 months of 2014. Asia accounted for 22.5 percent of Israeli imports and 25.4 percent of Israeli exports.

Israel's parliamentary TV channel aired the results of a poll in which respondents were asked "Can Israel do without exports to Europe and pursue policy that is liable to bring about an economic embargo?" Sixty-two percent of Israelis said no, 32 percent said yes.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Ralph Boulton)