Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized the economic and technological ties between the countries in their addresses to the Knesset on Wednesday.
Mukherjee said that India and Israel are “modern nations but ancient civilizations,” and both modern countries are “united in democracy” and were founded after a struggle against British rule.
“Our leaders adopted different methods, but were inspired by the same human values and ideals. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Mahatma Gandhi is the only world leader whose picture is hung in David Ben-Gurion’s desert home,” he said. “We admire the will and resolve you have shown in building your nation under difficult circumstances.”
The Indian president said his nation “always appreciated Israeli innovations in the field of agriculture, the kibbutz system and the remarkable achievements of your scientists and engineers,” saying drip irrigation is widely used, and the country is looking to develop efficient technologies for water management and cleaning rivers.
Mukherjee called to develop ties between Israeli and Indian universities and to integrate “Israeli innovation and Indian engineering and scale,” to create markets and jobs in both countries. He spoke of his country’s association with the Israeli defense industry.
He added that “whenever the Nobel Prizes have been announced, we have often seen the names of awardees who have studied in Israeli universities. As friends of Israel, we rejoice in the success of your scientists.”
As for tourism, Mukherjee said India “is delighted that Israeli citizens, particularly the younger generation, enjoy traveling to India. They rightly see India as a safe and welcoming destination where they always feel at home. I am told that Hebrew has been learned in some villages, and they even serve hummus.”
The Indian president spoke of his country’s Jewish community.
“The Jewish citizens who came to India landed on the western coast more than 2,000 years ago. Throughout their long history, the Jewish communities in India have maintained, developed and enriched their traditions with many Indian additions to their unique heritage. The Jewish people have been and will always be an integral part of India’s composite society,” he said.
Mukherjee mentioned the synagogue in Cochin, which he said is the only place in the world where there is a mosque, a church, a Hindu temple and a church on one street, and said the Jewish community of Mumbai has contributed to its architecture, banking, literature and Bollywood.
He briefly mentioned the Arab-Israeli conflict, saying that the way to solve it is through dialogue, and that international organizations are not effective enough in this capacity, because they cannot enforce their decisions.
Netanyahu spoke of the economic potential of Israel-India ties.
“India is a giant country and we’re a small one, but together we do great things in science, technology, trade, cyber, water and security. We are working together to realize our potential for innovation to bring growth and welfare to our countries,” he said. “The time has come for our technology and our entrepreneurs meet yours much more.”
The prime minister spoke about the recent wave of terrorism, pointing out that both India and Israel face “fundamentalists who feel threatened by our liberty.”
He repeated what he said in his last two speeches to the Knesset this week, that the violence is motivated by incitement and lies that Israel wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.
“Israel wants peace. I want peace. I am interested in starting negotiations immediately.
For that to happen, the terrorism has to stop and the Palestinians have to recognize the State of Israel.... The terrorists are trying to destroy any chance for reconciliation and the peace process,” Netanyahu said.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein also spoke about the spike in violence, saying “do not be fooled or blinded by lies. This is not a ‘War of Independence’ from the yoke of an occupation. We are part of a greater, worldwide struggle between cultures, nations and religions.
“Radical Islam has different names. Al-Qaida, ISIS [Islamic State], Hamas, Hezbollah and others in the Middle East want to rule with force. As your great leader Gandhi said: ‘The world is tired of hate.’ How unfortunate it is to find that after almost an entire century, there are still many, too many, who follow the way of terrorism and violence,” he added.
Edelstein said India and Israel are partners for a future world that is “sane and enlightened” and in a war against “fundamentalists who want to darken our world.”
“This is a struggle that not only uses military means, intelligence and technology, but also patience and faith in the righteousness of our way,” Edelstein said.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) recalled in his speech that India is mentioned in the Scroll of Esther.
Herzog compared the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to that of Gandhi, saying both nations know how to overcome and remain democratic.
“I am personally fascinated with your ability to integrate the Muslim minority in all parts of life, politics and government, including in the most senior and sensitive security positions,” Herzog said. “I’m also fascinated by your constitution that deals with issues of religion and state in a unique way. Yes, we certainly have what to learn from you and your moderate worldview.”