President Reuven Rivlin meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin’s eight-day trip to India is yet another sign of Israel’s warming ties with the Asian giant. Rivlin is in India with a delegation of Israeli businesses to mark a quarter of a century of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The president is a guest speaker at the Confederation of Indian Industries Premier Biennial Agro Technology and Business Fair.
He will also visit the sites of the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed 195 people, including 162 Indians and nine Israelis.
The two events – the agro convention and the eight-year anniversary of the Mumbai attack – underline the two fields in which Israel and India have fruitful cooperation: business and defense.
Israel’s innovative, dynamic and free economy has so much to contribute and teach India. And India’s huge market offers an important destination for Israeli products.
Indian farmers can benefit from Israeli expertise in drip irrigation, water security, methods to increase milk production in cows and genetic advances that breed disease-free poultry among others. Hi-tech startups in Bangalore and Hyderabad see Israeli firms as role models of creativity.
Israel and India also have in common a need to defend themselves from radical Islam. Both are democracies with highly diverse populations that are struggling to maintain robust democracies. Both countries face threats from Islamist terrorists who are motivated to violent acts not by anything India or Israel has done, but by what the countries represent.
The 2008 attack in Mumbai is illustrative of how both India and Israel embody all that is despised by fundamentalist Islamists: the two countries’ freedoms and tolerance, their democratic rule, and their proudly non-Muslim cultures.
One of the most public expressions of India’s warming relations with Israel was its decision in July 2015 to abstain from a vote against Israel in the United Nations Human Rights Council that blamed Israel for “war crimes” it supposedly perpetrated during Operation Protective Edge, while ignoring the war-mongering of Hamas.
But the pro-Israel pivot goes back much farther, beginning with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, once upon a time India’s most important ally in its conflict with US-backed Pakistan.
Nevertheless, India has faced some constraints when it comes to improving ties with Israel. One factor is India’s large Muslim population – approximately 180 million – more than any other non-Muslim state.
But India has profited little from its consistent pro-Palestinian position. Arab countries have failed to back India against Pakistan in its dispute over Kashmir.
Even the Palestinians have consistently and overwhelmingly favored Muslim Pakistan over India.
In contrast, Israel has supported India’s position vis-àvis Kashmir, offering it critical counter-terror know-how and technologies at least since the 1999 Kargil War.
Another factor contributing to the warming ties between Israel and India was the rise to power of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
If India’s leftists viewed Israel as a “neo-imperialist proxy of America,” BJP supporters – and Hindus in general – tend to see Israel as a plucky democracy with a strong, non-Muslim religious identity standing up to nihilistic Islamist terrorists – not unlike the Indians themselves.
Many parallels can be drawn between BJP and our Likudled government. Both seek to strengthen what they see as a more authentic national identity – Hindutva in India, Jewish in Israel – while maintaining a robust democracy.
Caving in to Muslim dictates is bad for India. Muslim countries have little of consequence to offer India.
Good relations with India is an important Israeli asset.
With its huge population, many of whom are well-educated, India provides a regional counterweight to Russia and China. India, like Israel, is an officially secular federal democracy that is based on ethnic and confessional pluralism that faces constant threats from jihadists.
Rivlin’s visit to India as the two countries celebrate 25 years of cooperation is a reminder of how much Israel and India have in common and how the ties between the two countries can be mutually beneficial. India’s leaders should not allow intimidation from Muslim countries to dissuade them from reaping the benefits of cooperation with Israel.