Israel’s Bangladeshi ‘ambassador’ converting to Judaism
As a child in ‘one of the world's most anti-Semitic countries,’ Dr. Shadman Zaman was taught to hate Israel. But after his grandfather encouraged him to read about Judaism and the Jewish people, he became an ardent Zionist and the first citizen to visit Israel with a Bangladeshi passport. Today, as a pro-Israel activist living in Britain, he fights anti-Semitism and hopes to make aliyah one day.
He will likely never set foot in Bangladesh again, although his parents have been left behind. If he returns, he risks being sent to prison.
“I see myself as an ambassador of Israel and of the Jewish people and as someone who fights for Israel and against anti-Semitism,” he says.
“I come from one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world,” he tells Ynet. “The citizens of Bangladesh are forbidden to own a Torah scroll, and whoever visits Israel—like me—is likely to be charged with treason and thrown into prison for many years. I have friends who are sitting in jail simply because they wanted to visit Israel. But I’m undeterred, because I define myself as a Zionist.”
He arrived in Israel recently as a guest of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and visited the President’s Residence. “I was raised as a Zionist,” he says. “In Bangladesh I was taught to hate Israel, but my grandfather was the first Bangladeshi Zionist. He always taught me to respect people and told me to read about Judaism and about the Jewish people.”
‘Fighting the thriving anti-Semitism in Britain’
Zaman got his Zionist education from smuggled books. “In 2016, I moved to Britain. A month before he died, my grandfather asked me to visit Israel,” he says. “I went to the Israeli embassy and asked for a visa, and I got it. It was the first time ever that a Bangladeshi citizen had visited Israel with his country’s national passport. I know people who have entered Israel, but they have dual citizenships.”
His love for Israel subsequently generated a love for Judaism. “I was always intrigued by the Jewish people’s story,” he says. “I believe in the Torah. I’m amazed by the fact that the Jewish people survived all the oppressions they went through, so I decided to become part of them and convert.
“There isn’t a single Jew in Bangladesh,” he adds. “Had there been Jews there, I would have already been Jewish today. The first time I saw Jews and a synagogue was in Britain. I want to make aliyah one day, but in the meantime I’m doing PR for Israel and fighting the anti-Semitism thriving in Britain, unfortunately.”
Dr. Zaman, who specializes in trauma at a hospital in Britain, participated recently in a conference in London organized by WZO’s Department for Countering Anti-Semitism. He even stars in a video created by the pro-Israel StandWithUS organization, which has received some 150,000 views.
He first visited Israel last February and made his second visit in November as a guest of the WZO, as part of a delegation of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain. “This is our goal,” said WZO Vice Chairman Yaakov Hagoel. “To reveal anti-Semitic incidents and to provide Jewish communities, and any other community in fact, with practical tools to deal with this phenomenon, as well as encourage active involvement in the entire world.”
Zaman’s dream: To return to his homeland
Zaman’s parents still live in Bangladesh and are permitted to meet him only twice a year in Britain, he says. His dream is for his homeland to establish diplomatic ties with Israel one day, so that he may be able to go back there for a visit. “Bangladesh can benefit from relations with Israel, just like India,” he says.
Meanwhile, he embarks on PR missions in Britain. Every time someone tells him Israel is an apartheid state that kills Palestinian children, he replies like a seasoned Israeli ambassador: “I visited Tel Aviv University and saw Jewish and Muslim students studying together. I also saw Muslim lawmakers at the Knesset and Muslim judges in the Supreme Court.
“This is not what an apartheid state looks like. Before accusing Israel of killing Palestinian children, you should check the facts and go to Gaza. See how Hamas uses children as human shields and harms their education by failing to use foreign aid funds to build schools, building terror tunnels instead.”