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Visits that break the mould


With Netanyahu’s trip to India, the Modi Government seems to have succeeded in divesting the country of the last vestiges of Nehruvian foreign policy

The four-day visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India, which began at New Delhi yesterday, is all set to be an important turning point in the relationship between the two countries in more than one way. When this visit concludes on January 18, the Modi Government would have succeeded in divesting India of the last vestiges of Nehruvian mould of foreign policy.

With Modi emerging as a leader enjoying full majority in Parliament (the first one to do so in the last over three decades), the country has made a complete break with the past when compulsions of ideological considerations and that of vote-banks, decided the contours of the India’s ties with the rest of the world.

The Israel Prime Minister’s itinerary includes a trip to Mumbai, from where he is slated to take a flight back home. His Mumbai visit has an emotional dimension, with ideological underpinnings. He is also going to make an effort to woo Bollywood, a subtle recognition of India’s emergence as a vibrant soft power.

Prime Minister Netanyahu will be visiting Chabad House in Mumbai. He will be accompanied by young Moshe Holtzberg, who was just two-years-old when his parents, Rivka and Gavriel Holtzberg, serving as emissaries of Chabad in Mumbai, were killed along with six others at Chabad House in the 26/11 terror attack in 2008. Moshe will be accompanied by his grandparents.

This sombre visit to Chabad House by Netanyahu will be a silent statement underlining the common concerns and existential challenges India and Israel face in a world which is threatened by Islamic zealots on a daily basis. India and Israel have been victims of Islamic fundamentalism and terror for long. Both the countries have not only managed to survive but today count as global leaders.

Israel has been facing a “cultural boycott” in the world of global entertainment business for over 13 years now. The ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) movement began when a coalition of 170 Palestinian civil society groups issued a call to “people of conscience” all over the globe on July 9, 2005, to socially delegitimise Israel.

The movement claims support from unions, churches and NGOs, and aims to isolate Israel in the world. According to Netanyahu, BDS stands for ‘Bigotry, Dishonesty and Shame’.

The Israeli Prime Minister and his wife Sara are, of course, fond of Indian movies. The aim of the special choreographed event, ‘Shalom Bollywood’ slated for January 18 in Mumbai is, however, not personal but political — to enlist the support of Indian film industry to fight BDS.

Centuries old cultural ties between the two nations received a boost when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a stand-alone visit to Israel last year, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister. The first ever visit to India by an Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, too took  place when the NDA was in power in 2003.

During Sharon’s visit to India in 2003, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, gifted him a set of copper plates given by the local rulers of Kodungallur to Jews, who came to trade on the Malabar coast as long as back as 379 CE. The message inscribed on the copper plate says that the village of Anjuvannam belongs to the Jews and their decedents “so long as the world or moon exists”.

What is significant of India’s broad-mindedness was that while the Jews were persecuted in every city in Europe throughout the last 16 centuries, India was one of the very few countries that gave this persecuted and other races not only a place to live and prosper, but also set up their worship places (synagogues) often under a royal decree.

Even today in the port city of Kochi, there is a Jew town with a synagogue dating to the 12th century though most of the Jews have gone back to Israel after its formation in the wake of the end of the Second World War and Hitler’s horrible persecution of Jews.

What is more significant is that this synagogue was set up touching the royal temple wall. Even today, the curious visitors to this Jewish worship house are surprised by a Hindu king letting the Jews construct their worship house not only in the port city but also so close to the Kingdom’s royal temple.

The current generation of our country might be wondering what then caused the 50 year break between Israel and India. Due to the Nehruvian policy of aligning India’s foreign policy with the Muslim world to ensure Muslims in India voted for the Congress, even Indian citizen’s passport stated that it was not valid for journey to Israel (as also to South Africa).

So much was New Delhi’s submission to the Islamic world abroad and the so-called Muslim sentiment in India, that Israeli contacts with Indians were looked down upon. When Israel’s then President was a transit passenger in Delhi airport, the Morarji-led Janata Government merely sent its officer for courtesy’s sake to receive him and conduct him without entering India. Even that was resented by the Left parties and the Congress which was in the Opposition in 1977-79.

Though, by then, Israel and Egypt, the leader among anti-Israel Muslim countries, had signed a peace treaty recognising Israel, successive Congress Governments refused to give full diplomatic relationship to Israel. Only after the Congress Government had a non-Nerhu-Gandhi family man as the Prime Minister (PV Narasimha Rao), this deliberate treatment was rectified and full diplomatic relationship restored.

Under the BJP Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this relationship blossomed and Israeli Prime Minister’s visit is not a return courtesy for  Modi’s visit to Israel last year but an affirmation of the new level of Israel as a major partner of India’s security and development, both so close to the current NDA Government.

The expected “blossoming” of relations is not an exaggeration. Netanyahu is carrying with him a team of 130 Israeli industry leaders. Besides, many of the industrial and high technology US companies with projects in India, including in defence are actually owned by Israeli citizens or US citizens of Jewish origin. That leading science and technology talents of the world are Jews is a well recognised fact.

Already many Israeli technologies in agriculture, irrigation, defence and high technology are being used in India. We are bound to hear more about the new comers in these areas after the visit of Netanyahu concludes.

Apart from mutually beneficial economic ties, what cements the relationship between the two countries is the fact that both Israel and India are surrounded by hostile neighbours, claiming inspiration from Islam and keeping the terror machine running.

(The writer is a political commentator and a former BJP Rajya Sabha MP)


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