AGRA, India – Following two days of an intense diplomatic schedule, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, spent their third day in India doing what millions of tourists do when they tour the country: visit the Taj Mahal.
“Deeply appreciated the magnificence and the beauty of this unforgettable monument of love,” Netanyahu wrote in the Taj Mahal visitors book at the end of a two-hour visit to the celebrated 17th-century mausoleum, an ivory-marble perfection of symmetry, built by Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Mahal was a Persian princess who died during childbirth, and Jahan erected the mausoleum as a testament to his love.
Netanyahu and his entourage flew 30 minutes from New Delhi to an air force base in Agra. He was met there by Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, and given a traditional welcome by female dancers in colorful costume, some dressed as peacocks who fell to the ground as the Netanyahus approached.
Netanyahu’s motorcade then drove through one of Agra’s main streets, where all the shops were shuttered closed. Traffic to the street was blocked, as thousands of people behind police barriers at intersections stood watching the convoy and waiting for it to pass.
The streets were lined with posters welcoming Netanyahu, featuring a photo of him, and a smaller one of Adityanath. The motorcade went to a luxurious hotel near the Taj Mahal, where the entourage transferred into golf carts and went to the site.
The Netanyahus received a guided tour, and entered the main dome to see the graves of Shah Jahan and his wife. The two – like most tourists – took photos at the famous Diana bench in front of the site, named after the Princess of Wales who pointedly sat there alone in 1992, without Prince Charles, in a photo that was splashed across front pages around the world.
The couple then returned to the hotel for a lunch with Adityanath. During Netanyahu’s visit, the Taj Mahal – one of the most visited sites in the world – was closed to tourists.
Netanyahu flew back to New Delhi in the early evening, delivering the keynote speech at the Raisina Dialogue, a world affairs symposium put on each year by India’s Foreign Ministry and a leading Indian think tank.
“The weak don’t survive,” Netanyahu said in a speech, briefly laying out his philosophy of what is needed to propel a country forward. “The strong survive. You make peace with the strong. You make alliances with the strong. You’re able to maintain peace by being strong.”
Netanyahu will leave New Delhi on Wednesday, and spend the day in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, where he served as the state’s chief minister before becoming prime minister in 2014. On Wednesday evening, Netanyahu will travel to Mumbai and remain there until returning home on Friday morning.
The Indian press was full of stories Tuesday on Moshe Holtzberg, called “Baby Moshe,” who returned to Mumbai for the first time since both his parents were killed in the 2008 terrorist attack at the Chabad House in Mumbai. He was two years old at the time, and was saved by his nanny, Sandra Samuel, who, like Moshe, now lives in Israel.
Samuel and Moshe’s grandparents with whom he lives in Afula accompanied him back to Mumbai.
Moshe will join Netanyahu on Thursday in a dedication ceremony at the Chabad House for a memorial to the victims of the attack that will be located at the top two floors of the building.
When Moshe arrived at Mumbai’s Taj hotel, which was also targeted by terrorists during the 2008 attacks and where Netanyahu will be staying, he said “Shalom” to the reporters, and – according to local press reports – added in Hindi, “Bahut khushi” (I’m very happy).