SPOTLIGHT

January 2012

 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 

India and Israel
20 Years of Possibilities and Potential

By Dr. Richard L. Benkin *                        

The rise of radical Islam created a unique bond between India and Israel.Both are democratic republics; both are secular despite being associated with particular faiths; both have similar-sized Muslim minorities that harbour violent elements associated with foreign and antagonistic entities; and while Islamists might call the United States the “great Satan,” there are no two countries they are intent on destroying more than Israel and India.Both nations also have similar parochial disputes with hostile neighbours  

It seems inconceivable that India and Israel lacked any relationship for most of their relatively brief histories and established full diplomatic ties the same year Israel and China did (1992). Yet by 2003, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, acknowledged that the relationship was already second in importance “… only to Israel’s relations with the United States.” Today, the Israel-India relationship stands as one of the most important bilateral ties of the 21st century and arguably the most important in the fight against radical jihad, impelled by the altered geo-political landscape in the 1990s.

End of Alignments; Beginning of New Partnerships

The fall of the Soviet Union required nations to re-assess their alignments. The Americans and their allies were Israel’s major supporters; the Soviets and theirs were its major antagonists. Ever since Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s reign, India was aligned with the USSR. Even his ‘non-aligned movement’ was adamantly anti-American and anti-Israel.

The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 ended those alignments. The rise of radical Islam created a unique bond between India and Israel. Both are democratic republics; both are secular despite being associated with particular faiths; both have similar-sized Muslim minorities that harbour violent elements associated with foreign and antagonistic entities; and, while Islamists might call the United States the “great Satan,” there are no two countries they are intent on destroying more than Israel and India. Both nations also have similar parochial disputes with hostile neighbours. Kashmir is India’s ‘West Bank,’ because many would sacrifice both territories in land-for-peace formulae that few believe will bring genuine peace. In those struggles, both nations are regularly accused of human rights violations by nations that ignore the ethnic cleansing which preceded the often-disingenuous charges.

A Blossoming Relationship between Natural Allies

In this changed geo-political landscape, the Israel-India relationship has blossomed in hitherto unseen ways; most obviously in the military and security fields, with special attention on the Islamist threat. For almost a decade, Israel was India’s second largest defence supplier until 2009 when it became the largest. The decline of Russia, India’s main supplier for decades, provided the major impetus and imperative for India to seek a new trading partner. An unnamed Indian official told me that the tipping point was the 26/11 “Al Qaida-aligned attack on Mumbai (and our inability to retaliate), which highlighted India’s weakness in air and naval surveillance.” Turning to Israel, India bought Israel Aerospace Industries’ EL/M-2083 radar system valued at $600 million to “be deployed along the Pakistani border.” Since then, Israel and India have moved beyond the earlier stage of one-way military trade to joint projects in developing both offensive and defensive weapons.

Aside from security cooperation, Israel’s Rural Development Organization, with the goal of empowering India’s rural poor, has produced schools, income generating projects and environmental efforts, and trained locals to carry out the program independently. Israel also sent emergency teams to help Indian earthquake victims and provided aid during other disasters, both natural and man-made. Israel continues to maintain programs to improve medical care and agricultural technologies in rural India.

Numerous points of cultural similarity have also emerged since the lid was taken off. India rapidly replaced Turkey as Israelis’ favourite tourist destination because, as noted in Reform Judaism, “Israelis feel an instinctive affinity for India (whose) history is virtually devoid of anti-Semitism.” That cannot be overestimated for Jews, who seem to be walking on territory watered with the blood of the people everywhere; but not in India. I recall being in the holy Hindu city of Rishikesh recently, where large numbers of young Israelis had come to drink in the spirituality offered there and in nearby Haridwar.

Overcoming Critical Obstacles

A significant obstacle remains, however, to the countries’ virtually unlimited economic, military, security and cultural cooperation. Despite the advantages both countries have accrued, the vast majority of India’s media, academics, and ‘old guard’ in government cling to outmoded philosophies that do not reflect 21st century reality.

For instance, the Indian government supported the Palestinian Authority’s attempt at UN recognition—though the majority rejected it as counterproductive; supported the anti-Israel Goldstone Report—though its author and many others subsequently repudiated it as biased; announced support for Syria’s Bashir Assad in his fight with Israel—though even fellow Arabs recognize him as a despot and international pariah.

India’s mainstream media claimed in 2009 that Israel “massacred 40 Palestinians”—later proven false but never retracted. In 2010, the media reported that Israel’s defensive attack on the Gaza flotilla was “an act of piracy of state terrorism”—though a generally hostile UN vindicated Israel.

Further, anti-Israel sentiment on Indian campuses manifests itself in regular anti-Israel attacks. There are attempts to hijack our human rights agenda to an anti-Israel one; professors pushing an anti-Israel narrative as objective truth, as faculty and students consistently report; and, by offering Arab or Islamic studies while rejecting classes on Israel or Jewish history not taught from an ideological and anti-Israel perspective.

The elites’ international counterparts, rather than their fellow Indians, comprise their reference group. Their enforced political correctness, if unchecked, will prevent Israel-India relations from yielding their potential for the peoples of both nations. Fortunately, there are signs of their grass-roots rejection and growing pro-Israel sentiment among the populace. As one journalist for a major Indian news outlet told me, “there is something of a generation gap between the editors and publishers” and today’s younger professionals. The disconnect, he and others told me, exists because of the fast pace at which realities and relationships have changed. Other journalists report similar pressure from the top and change among the masses. Pro-Israel groups are galvanizing students on several campuses, and openly pro-Israel students won three of four posts in Delhi University’s 2010 Student Union elections. Students and faculty I have spoken with over the past several years display a consistent hunger for information about Israeli technology, its life in general, and its success against terrorism.

Overcoming this last vestige will enable even greater cooperation. The Israeli Space Agency is looking to coordinate its program with India’s. Israel is being considered as a location for Bollywood productions. It is looking to apply cutting edge chemical and technological advances to help irrigate arid and unproductive farmland. Both nations with deserved reputations as technological innovators are planning joint efforts for state of the art military technology.

Without doubt, India and Israel are natural allies with overlapping interests that increase every day.

 
* Dr. Richard L. Benkin is an American human rights activist and journalist.      

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