Modi visit signals historic shift in Indo-Israel relations

Indians admire the courage with which tiny Israel has held forth against hostile neighbors out to exterminate the Jewish homeland.

Indian Prime Minister Modi and delegation participates in meeting at the White House in Washington (photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)
Indian Prime Minister Modi and delegation participates in meeting at the White House in Washington
Narendra Modi has made high profile visits to countless countries after he became prime minister of India. But no other visit excites as much enthusiasm and optimism among the informed public in India, especially Indian farmers, as Modi’s visit to Israel.
With Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led NDA government, India’s foreign policy is undergoing historic transformation and much needed course correction. This is the first time an Indian prime minister is visiting Israel, that too without visiting Palestine in the same trip, which would have been unthinkable during non-BJP regimes. Two Cabinet ministers have already set the tone by excluding Palestine from their visit to Israel. This de-hyphenation of India’s relations with Israel is widely welcomed in India by all except the Communists and Islamists.
It is no coincidence that the first ever visit by an Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, took place in 2003 when BJP led NDA government was in power with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the prime minister.
This marks a dramatic departure from policies of previous non-BJP governments in India who either shunned Israel or established covert relations with Israel due to potential backlash from the leftists and alienation of Muslim voter pool in India. Both these lobbies exercise an excessive and unhealthy influence over India’s domestic and international policies. In recent decades, this self-harming policy of staying aloof from Israel was widely questioned and Modi government’s determination to build close ties with Israel even while maintaining cordial ties with Arab countries has been warmly welcomed. Thankfully for India, whatever its other faults or limitations, BJP is not hostage to Islamist-leftist agendas.
The founding fathers of BJP, including its parent organization—the RSS—supported the creation of Israel as a nation since its inception in 1947. This was the same year that the Indian sub-continent witnessed a bloody Partition on the basis of Two Nation Theory peddled by the Muslim League—arguing that Muslims were a separate nation and therefore could not co-exist in a nation where Hindus constituted a majority. In the process, millions were uprooted from their ancestral lands, millions slaughtered and countless women raped and abducted. It is one of the greatest ironies of history that those who forced India’s Partition through massacres left behind a much larger Muslim population in India than exists in Pakistan.
Instead of sympathizing with Israel, which faced threat to its very existence from Islamist forces surrounding it, the Congress Party that assumed power after independence equated Israel with Pakistan as a nation-state based on religion and opposed its very existence. However, successive Congress governments, far from keeping a distance from Pakistan, kept singing songs of brotherhood between the two nations despite repeated aggression by Pakistan, while treating Israel as a pariah due to Soviet and Islamist influences. Later on better sense prevailed and low-key informal diplomatic ties were established with the setting up of an Israeli consulate in Bombay in 1953, though full diplomatic relations were established as late as 1992.
Even so, non-BJP regimes remained apologetic about relations with Israel and for decades supported the Palestinian cause projecting a romantic view of PLO’s 'liberation struggle' involving terror attacks against Israeli civilians.
But BJP leaders, even while in opposition stood for closer cooperation with Israel because they rightly saw the two countries as natural allies since Jews are victims of the same forces that had plundered, looted, ravaged and enslaved India for centuries and then carried out ethnic cleansing of Hindus in their own homeland to create Pakistan as an Islamist state. The same policy is being currently pursued in Kashmir through the use of Pakistani backed terrorist organizations wearing the mask of “freedom struggle” exactly the way Hamas does vis-a-vis Israel.
Normally, ordinary citizens don’t see a direct stake in foreign policy issues and therefore diplomatic relations are left to the wisdom of governments. But in the case of Israel, the pressure for closer ties has emanated from ordinary citizens—the impoverished farmers of the arid regions of India.
Even though, the Indian government entered into formal agreements on cooperation in agriculture as recently as 2008, farmers of dry regions of India began to emulate the Israeli model of agriculture to improve productivity in agriculture under water scarce conditions at least two decades before that. While working with a formidable farmers organization in Maharashtra in late 1980’s and 1990’s, I was amazed to see how the poorest farmers of the arid districts of Maharashtra were bringing about a horticulture revolution by practicing Israeli innovations in farm technologies including drip irrigation. Self motivated & self financed farmers groups had started visiting Israel to witness how a desert had been transformed into a laboratory for the most advanced and productive experiments in agriculture. Needless to say, the Israeli government and agricultural scientists lent enthusiastic support to Indian farmers, even when the Indian government was not yet through with its unilateral romance with Arab nations and the Palestinian cause—neither of which yielded the desired political dividend; India never received support against repeated unprovoked wars Pakistan inflicted on India or when India became the prime target of Pakistani and global jihad.
Terrorism on agenda of talks during Modi visit, says Israeli envoy to India (credit: REUTERS)
All those concerned with the geopolitical security of India and worried about the compromises made on this score by earlier regimes due to their flawed judgment in choosing political allies, have for long argued in favor of India allying with Israel in honing its expertise in internal and external security, especially since they emanate from a common enemy.
Indians admire the courage with which tiny Israel has held forth against hostile neighbors out to exterminate the Jewish homeland. What is even more admirable is that Israel did not allow the all round siege to come in the way of its economic, social, educational, scientific and technological advancement, matching the capacity of first world countries. Israelis don’t need to be explained how blind the fury of anti-Semitism can be. But it is beyond comprehension how multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural India wedded to secularism could for decades remain hostage to the most hate-soaked retrogressive Islamist ideology by distancing itself from Israel to the point of harming its own economic, geo-political security and civilizational interests.
It is equally bizarre that leftists who label themselves as “progressive” and champions of the oppressed have made common cause with Islamists to spread virulent hatred against Jews who have the longest history of suffering oppression, pogroms, ethnic cleansing accompanied with demonization. Ironically, these two groups are able to get away with similar demonization of Hindu civilization which has been at the receiving end of Islamic invasions, involving brutal plunder, persecution and ethnic cleansing of Hindus for centuries. It is even more bizarre that this could happen in a country like India which is among those rare places in the world where Jews who settled here for millennia never faced the slightest trace of anti-Semitism. Malabar Jews are the oldest group of Jews in India, claiming their roots to the time of King Solomon. Some other Jewish communities are believed to be descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
It is part of India’s DNA that diverse Jewish communities settled in Hindu kingdoms never faced any persecution or discrimination—just as Parsis, Bahais, Tibetans, Burmese, Afghanis and countless others who came as refugees were enabled to co-exist peacefully in Hindu majority India with full citizenship rights. Nobody ever questioned their right to practice their religion, build grand places of worship unique to their faith and maintain their distinct identity even while sharing cultural and linguistic bonds with diverse Hindu neighbors.
The Israel-India collaboration is now on a confident footing to the benefit of both countries in the arena of defense, national security, space programs, IT and farm technology. Now that Indo-Israel relations have been finally de-hyphenated one hopes that India will henceforth stand firmly in support of Israel in international fora in defense of Israel’s right to survive without fear and constant threats of extermination.
Madhu Purnima Kishwar is the ICSSR Maulana Azad National Professor and founder of Manushi