Netanyahu and Krishna 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week’s visit of Indian Foreign Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna to
Israel received extensive coverage in both Israel and India. It was the highest
ranking Indian visit to Israel in 11 years.
There have been few visits by
top-ranking Indian officials to Israel since the normalization of relations in
1992 – none by an Indian president or prime minister. While Indian leaders
generally express a genuinely sympathetic view of Israel in private, they are
reluctant to publicize Indo-Israeli cooperation and achievements. They fear that
overt partnership with Israel may antagonize India’s Muslims – who, representing
close to 15 percent of the total population, form an important vote bank – and
jeopardize India’s strategic ties with the Arab and Muslim Middle
The 2001 visit to Israel of Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh
took place under the leadership of the BJP, a political party characterized by a
nationalist and Hindu outlook and little dependent on Muslim support and votes.
The recent visit of Indian Foreign Minister Krishna is all the more significant
as the Indian governing coalition is now headed by the Congress, a party which
traditionally has paid close attention to Muslim
Furthermore, the visit of Krishna takes place at a time
when the Israeli governing coalition’s right-wing orientation has been giving
rise to widespread concerns and criticism across the international community,
including among some of Israel’s friends.
As India and Israel are
celebrating 20 years of diplomatic relations, Krishna’s visit may indicate that
India is at last willing to stop treating Israel as its mistress. It is indeed
high time the Indian and Israeli leadership engage in an open dialogue,
considering the extensive relationship the two countries have developed on the
ground. Bilateral trade amounts today to $5 billion – and it could hit $15
billion if a free trade agreement is signed – and cooperation in the
agriculture, water, homeland security and aerospace sectors (to mention just a
few) has flourished over the past two decades. Besides, it is no secret that
Israel has become one of India’s top defense suppliers and partners.
India seeks wider recognition as a great power (see India’s bid to become a
permanent member of the UN Security Council and its activity in the BRICS) and
if it really wants to play a political role in the Middle East it can no longer
avoid meeting Israel’s leaders for direct discussions.
Yuval Steinitz, during his visit to India in December 2011, declared that
“Israel views its ties with India as its second most important relationship
after the United States.” He omitted to mention that the tremendous progress in
Indo-Israeli ties achieved in the past two decades would not have been possible
in the face of US opposition.
The US has viewed positively the
development of a strong partnership between India and Israel, particularly in
the military and security spheres. It might eye military cooperation between
India and Israel as a means to balance China’s rise in Asia, but this could not
be further from Israel’s true intentions. Israel does not wish to see its
relations with China burdened by appearing as a pawn in a global anti-Chinese
strategy orchestrated by the US, and India too is deeply allergic to any idea of
being used by one great power against another major power.
Jewish advocacy groups have played a key role in both strengthening US support
for the Indo-Israeli relationship, and pushing for India’s rapprochement with
Israel. The involvement from the mid-1980s of American Jewry in lobbying the
Indian government to normalize relations with Israel was a determining
contribution. India had come to believe that the American Jewish lobby had a
major influence on Washington and that improving relations with Israel would not
only enhance India’s standing vis-à-vis American Jewry but also, in turn, help
advance links with the US.
Since normalization, American Jewish
organizations have continued to push for closer links between India and Israel,
and for the recognition of overlapping interests between India, Israel and the
US. Jewish lobbying played a role in obtaining the Bush administration’s
approval for Israel’s sale to India of the Phalcon airborne warning system and,
more recently, in convincing a rather skeptical Congress to sign the Indo-US
nuclear deal that signified a substantial leap in the two countries’
The coming year presents an important opportunity for
strengthening not only India-Israel relations but also ties between India and
the Jewish people. World Jewry, and particularly the American Jewish community,
will continue to play an important role in furthering the Indo-Israeli
relationship. Israel should support these Jewish organizations in their
efforts to seek political and economic alliances with the Indian
Diaspora. Also, Israel should reach out to its own Indian Diaspora. The
fact that Israeli Jews of Indian origin could play a significant part in
building bridges and advancing ties with India has been so far largely
overlooked. This is a great loss, considering that members of the Indian-Israeli
community, with their contacts, understanding of local culture and languages,
could well be Israel’s best spokespersons vis-à-vis India.
is a fellow of the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). Shalom Salomon Wald is
a senior JPPI fellow and author of China and the Jewish people: old
civilizations in a new era (JPPI, 2004).