Israel and India

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi  (photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
There was a time, not so long ago, when India was aligned with Israel’s bitterest enemies.
In the aftermath of the Six Day War, when Israel’s popularity was at a high point, India condemned Israel for what it saw as “the Israeli invasion of the Arab lands of Palestine.”
During a visit to Cairo in October 1967, then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi publicly supported “the just rights of the Palestinian people.” India was one of the first non-Muslim nations to recognize the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause for statehood.
After the Yom Kippur War, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs blamed the Jewish state for causing the conflict.
India backed the PLO’s bid for UN observer status in 1974.
In January 1975 it became the first non-Arab nation to extend formal diplomatic accreditation to the representatives of the PLO. In the same year, a PLO office was set up in New Delhi and India voted in favor of UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism.
India continued this line through the 1970s into the 1980s, rejecting the Camp David Accords in solidarity with the Arab world; supporting the PLO despite its terrorist activity; and taking the side of Arab states.
Vestiges of this pro-Palestinian position were easily discernible in Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech Sunday at the University of Jordan.
India’s traditional support for the Palestinian cause remains “steadfast and unwavering,” said Mukherjee. “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English and France belongs to the French,” he declared, in the name of Mahatma Gandhi.
Despite Mukherjee’s pro-Palestinian rhetoric, however, there has been an undeniable improvement in Indian-Israeli relations since the 1980s.
The most public expression of this change was India’s decision in July to abstain from a vote against Israel in the United Nations Human Rights Council that blamed Israel for “war crimes” perpetrated during Operation Protective Edge, while ignoring the war-mongering of Hamas and the terrorist organization’s cynical use of its own civilian population as human shields to maximize Palestinian “martyrs.”
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.
Admittedly, India has no interest in flaunting its improved ties with the Jewish state. At about 180 million, India has the largest Muslim population of any non-Muslim state.
Still, New Delhi came to the realization over the years that it has been poorly compensated for supporting the Palestinians.
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 Pakistan over India. In contrast, Israel has supported India’s position vis-à-vis Kashmir, offering it critical counter-terror know-how and technologies at least since the 1999 Kargil War.
Also, India has undergone significant political and social changes in recent decades, reflected by the rise to power of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Hindutva, the ideology of Hindu-ness, has reached the apex of its influence inside India. 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 Likud-led 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.
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. And ultimately, caving in to Muslim dictates is bad for India. Muslim countries have little of consequence to offer India.
In contrast, Israel’s innovative, dynamic, and free economy has so much to contribute and share with India. Indian farmers of all faiths can benefit from Israeli expertise in drip irrigation. Startups in Bangalore and Hyderabad see Israeli firms as role models. And Indians rightly have high regard for the society that has fostered such impressive innovation.
President Mukherjee believes he is acting prudently when he makes pro-Palestinian declarations in Amman and Ramallah.
Perhaps the time has come for India’s leaders to publicly and unequivocally articulate their support for Israel. Doing so would be a reaffirmation of the values and goals which most Indians hold dearly.