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Unfolding The Uncordial History Behind The Close Ties of India and Israel Relations

Jews have been a part of India more than thousand years. The most idiosyncratic aspect of the Indian Jewish experience is the complete absence of discrimination

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Hindutva and Zionism
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hug each other after reading their joint statement at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, Nov. 15, 2016. VOA

– by Naina Mishra

July 4, 2017: PM Narendra Modi comes to Israel on the 4th of July, 2017 who is also the first Indian Prime Minister on a tour to Israel from India. Dissevering the India and Israel relations from Palestine, it is important to comprehend the gravity, history, and unfolding of the Israel-India relationship. The visit may have multiple folds, the most remarkable aspect the shared values and historical ties that bind the two nations together.

Jews have been a part of India more than thousand years. The most idiosyncratic aspect of the Indian Jewish experience is the complete absence of discrimination.

Ancient India and Israel relations
Group of Beni-Israel in Ancient Costume. XIXth century. Wikimedia

Jews in India have lived without any fear of persecution, a fact that has been well esteemed by Israel. The community’s contributions to India remains immense despite the fact that Indian Jews population extremely thin.

 Past: Conflicting Indo-Israel Relation 

India’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state in January 1992 corrected the anomalous situation between the nations that lasted for four decades. It’s been 25 years since then the two nations’ shares cordial relations with each other.  Although Israel and India gained independence from the United Kingdom within months of each other, the ties between Israel and India were not always warm. Both the countries were headed in different directions, India as a leader of Non-Aligned Movement maintained relations to Arab World and the Soviet Union, and on the other side, Israel linked its future to close ties with the United States and Western Europe.

Although Israel and India gained independence from the United Kingdom within months of each other, the ties between Israel and India were not always warm. Both the countries were headed in different directions, India as a leader of Non-Aligned Movement maintained relations to Arab World and the Soviet Union, and on the other side, Israel linked its future to close ties with the United States and Western Europe.

Mahatma Gandhi in a letter titled Harijan, The Jews wrote:

“My sympathies are all with the Jews…..But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for national home for Jews does not make much appeal to me….Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that English belongs to England…. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today is not the moral code of conduct”

 

Shashi Tharoor stated in his book “Pax Indica”: Arab World constitutes an Integral part of India’s extended neighborhood and is a region of critical importance to India in strategic security and economic terms.

Many Arab nations were against the foundations upon which Israel as a nation was built. Israel and Palestine conflict raged the matter furthermore resulting in Arab world detesting the Israel state. India, however, chose to cling to the Arab world, which was a part of the larger Indian diplomatic strategy of trying to counter Pakistan’s influence in the Arab world and safeguarding its oil supplies from the Arab countries. As a result of which India started supporting Palestine at that time.

In 1950, India officially recognized the State of Israel, two years after its establishment in 1948.

India and Israel relations
Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with Israeli diplomat Michael Michael. Wikimedia

Following the recognition of Israel, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru stated, “We would have recognized Israel long ago because Israel is a fact. We refrained because of our desire not to offend the sentiments of our friends in the Arab countries.” However, the Nehru government did not pursue full diplomatic relations with Israel as it was supporting the Palestinian cause.

However, the Nehru government did not pursue full diplomatic relations with Israel as it was supporting the Palestinian cause.

India was a founder member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that was supportive of anti-colonial struggles around the world and this also meant strong support for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).  In 1974, India became the first Non-Arab country which recognized Palestine Liberation Organization.  India and Israel were also on the opposite sides during the Cold War, with the US strongly supporting Israel, and India inclined towards the Soviet Union.

The Congress Party in India opposed Israel in large part because it viewed Israel as the analog of Pakistan, a state based on religion. Israel on the other side could foresee India as the major importer of arms and military equipment which instilled the interest of Israel in India.

The Beginning of Indo-Israel Ties

After the end of the cold war and fall of Soviet Union, India was forced to reorient its foreign policy under the influence of world’s major powers and upgrade diplomatic relations with Israel to full ambassadorial level. Later, under NDA government India strived for better relations with Israel between the years 1998 to 2003.

India and Israel diplomatic relations
Israeli and Indian flags in New Delhi during PM Ariel Sharon’s official visit to India, September 2003. Wikimedia

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon marked the history by visiting India in the year 2003, which was an important benchmark that made clear to the world that India was no longer shy about its burgeoning relationship with Israel.

 India and Israel Fight against Terrorism

The terror 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai and its aftermath made the two nations realize the importance of cooperating on a larger scale to combat terrorism. Being domestic and pluralistic state with large domestic Muslim majorities, countering terrorism became imperative for both the countries.

India and Israel defence ties
VAdm Ram Rutberg Commander-in-Chief, Israeli Navy inspecting a Guard of Honour at South Block, New Delhi. Wikimedia

Both the countries face the bane of Islamist terrorism sponsored and abetted by neighboring countries, mostly under non-democratic regimes and capable of transferring weapons of mass destruction to the terrorist organizations. States such as Pakistan in South Asia, or Iran and Syria in the Middle East, have long been used terror as a mechanism of their foreign policies. The extremist Jihadist topmost exhortations were always the liberation of all of Palestine, Kashmir, and the total destruction of the United States, the realization of which drew the two nations closer. There is also a sort of discrepancy of perception between India and Israel on account of terrorism.  As for India, Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism whereas Israel reserves that status for Iran.

There is also a sort of discrepancy of perception between India and Israel on account of terrorism.  As for India, Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism whereas Israel reserves that status for Iran.

As a matter of fact, India’s pro-Arab stance has not been rewarded by the Arab world. It did not receive any backing from them in the resolution of problems faced by India in Kashmir. There have been no serious attempts by Arab to pressurise Pakistan, on the contrary, it supports Pakistan to build support for Islamabad and build Jihadist groups in Kashmir.

 Indo-Israel Agricultural ties 

In 2008, Israel and India finished an agricultural plan introducing native to the Middle East and Mediterranean to India, with a particular focus on production of olives.

Israel is an arid country that has managed to turn into a horticulture Wonderland and is also known for its cutting-edge irrigation technology. Israel has been setting up centres of excellence in agriculture since 2008 under the Indo-Israel Agriculture project. India can do wonders in crop production with Israel agriculture technology.

 Cyber Security 

India and Israel are all set to institutionalize cyber security cooperation in the run-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to Jerusalem in July. Israel is a leading global power in offensive and defensive technologies and is one of the very few countries to have the capability of intercepting Net-based communication platforms.

Given that terror and extremist groups world over communicate through Voice Over Internet Protocol, India looks toward Israeli cooperation towards this area.

 Sharing Intelligence: Mossad and RAW 

When the  Reseach and Analysis Wing (RAW) was founded in September 1968 by Rameshwar Nath Kao, he was advised by then Prime Minister Indra Gandhi to cultivate links with Mossad. This was suggested as a countermeasure to military links between that of Pakistan and China, as well as with North Korea. Israel was also concerned that Pakistani army officers were training Libyans and Iranians in handling Chinese and North Korean military equipment. Mossad was assumed to support RAW in Kargil war by giving the important battle information.

In November 2015, TOI reported that agents from Mossad and MI5 were protecting Prime Minister Narendra  Modi during his visit to Turkey to attend the 2015 G-20 Summit. The newspaper reported that the agents had been called in to provide additional cover to Modi’s security detail in wake of Paris attacks.

India and Israel not only exchange crucial intelligence information on Islamist terrorist groups but Israel is also helping India to fight terrorism in Kashmir by providing important logistical support.

Israel Defense Support to India

India and Israel defence ties
On January 26, 2001, an earthquake hit the city of Gujarat, India. The earthquake reached 7.7 on the Richter Scale, killing approximately 20,000 people, and injuring another 167,000. It also destroyed nearly 400,000 homes, leaving 600,000 people homeless. The IDF delegation of search and rescue soldiers created a field hospital (in close proximity to the disaster site) with 100 beds. The delegation treated up to 1,300 injured, performed 52 surgeries and delivered 12 babies. Wikimedia

India and Israel are close to signing a deal for Spike Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM) worth an estimated INR 3200 crore. Israel-India defense deal includes 8000 plus missiles, 300-plus launchers and technology transfer.

Seven contracts have been signed with Israel, keeping it second to the US with whom nine contracts have been signed.

– by Naina Mishra of Newsgram. Twitter: @Nainamishr94

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Bnei Menashe: India’s Jewish “Lost Tribe” comes across tough times in Israel

Supposedly, Bnei Menashe is one of the lost tribes of Israel, with a Jewish lineage

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The Western Wall of Israel. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
  • Hanoch Haokip, who belongs to the Bnei Menashe tribe, claims that his tribe is one of the lost tribes of Israel, with a Jewish lineage
  • These people who belong to Bnei Menashe live in the West Bank of Israel, where they are treated with contempt and have to face racism
  • There is the Shavei Israel, who aid the immigration of these Bnei Menashe members along with the Jewish Agency

Hanoch Haokip belongs to a small tribe of indigenous people in East India. He claims that he is the descendant of one of the lost tribes of Israel, with a Jewish lineage. Even though ethnographers are not entirely sure of the claim, Haokip is certain. He made that clear in an interview in Akko town of Israel, his current residence. He said that they were time and again questioned by the rabbis of Israel during their official conversion.

The Haokip family. Image Source : shavei.org
The Haokip family. Image Source : shavei.org

“Of course, you understand that the rabbinate, the government, needs to do these things,” said Zeev Wagner, a member of an Orthodox social welfare group associated with Shavei Israel, to Forward.com. This organisation is responsible for bringing Haokip and other members of his group to Israel, right after they had claimed to be a part of Israel’s lost tribes.

Haokip seemed worried about the influence of Israel’s secular society on his young children. He says that the government should try to bring them closer to their culture and how they often are confronted with racism. Haokip stressed on the fact that he identified with Zionism and he had come there along with his people to become Jews and not Israelis.

The Akko tower, where families like that of the Haokips live. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
The Akko tower, where families like that of the Haokips live. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Jewish Agency which is the organisation widely known for arranging for immigration for the Jews sided with the Shavei Israel for the Bnei Menashe immigration. The Shavei Israel is accused of exploiting the Bnei Menashe people and settling them down on the Jewish West Bank where they consider the group as illegal since they derive their support from Israel.

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The major portion of the Bnei Menashe residents in the Jewish Western Bank is made up of youths whose parents are absent. Thus they have to work long hours and become easily exposed to drugs and alcohol. Haokip believes that about 90% of Bnei Menashe youth have “lost their way” basically because they are confused about which culture they should follow.

Rabbi. Image Source : feujn.org
Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail. Image Source : feujn.org

Originally, the Bnei Menashe identified themselves as descendants of one of the sons of Joseph. Their culture is about 2,700 years old. Some of the distinct groups of this tribe are Mizo, Kuki and Chin peoples, a conglomerate of different tribes speaking various dialects of Tibeto-Burman languages. It was about 400 years ago that this community came to settle down in Manipur and Mizoram in India. In India, they were converted twice. Once when Christian missionaries forcefully converted many people into Protestant Christians and then again when they were encountered by an Orthodox rabbi from Jerusalem, Eliyahu Avichail. He was the one who coined the name “Bnei Menashe” for them and encouraged their return to Judaism.

The members of the Bnei Menashe entering Israel in 2006. Image Source : ynetnews.com
The members of the Bnei Menashe entering Israel in 2006. Image Source : ynetnews.com

In the early 2000s, the immigration issue of the Bnei Menashe become very prominent and was backed by certain religious groups. In 2006, a huge number of the tribe came to Israel. Michael Freund has declared the group to be “seed of Israel” meaning that they are a group whose religious identity does not recognise them as Jewish but their proven links to Jewish ancestry has given them the right to immigrate to Israel. But again, in 2015, a report by Judy Maltz, a Haaretz reporter said that the Bnei Menashe have no proof of their connection to a Jewish ancestry.

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Since 2005, no organisation had supported the immigration of Bnei Menashe. “For a country struggling to find potential new sources of immigration,” Freund had explained to Forward, “groups such as the Bnei Menashe and others like them might very well provide the answer.”

The Bnei Menashe people were greeted heartily by Israel upon their arrival in 2006. Image Source : ivarfjeld.com
The Bnei Menashe people were greeted heartily by Israel upon their arrival in 2006. Image Source : ivarfjeld.com

Several genetic examinations have been done to find out the truth about the origin of Bnei Menashe. Karl Skorecki had conducted such a resource and had found no evidence that would link them to the Middle east origin. Further study was conducted in India where the Bnei Menashe’s claim was proven true. However, the Indian Centre has been accused of being careless with the DNA sequencing. But Karl Skorecki had admitted that sometimes it becomes impossible to identify a group with their ancestors when thousands of years have passed in between.

Goita, lighting a candle. Image Source : forward.com
Goita, lighting a candle. Image Source : forward.com

Many of the orphaned children of the Bnei Menashe community have said that their adoptive Israeli mothers take very good care of them and have saved them from an unhealthy lifestyle. “Since arriving at the age of 8, I’ve learned to connect with the land, to have the confidence to fulfil and defend the promises of Zionism,” said Goita to the Forward.com. “This is something that we were always yearning for back home in India.” He appreciates how social workers like Beit Miriam celebrate “Roots Night” for them to remember their cultural and religious heritage.

Shimrit Zentusawn Ngaihte, who is a 20-year-old Bnei Menashe member, is sad about the fact that she has a very limited vocabulary of Hebrew. So, in order to become better at her mother tongue, she had petitioned the government to increase their tenure of the Hebrew language classes from five to eight months. As the Bnei Menashe community continues to grow in Israel, with more and more immigrants coming in, this step taken by Shimrit has become essential.

-This article is modified by Aitreyee Sengupta, an intern at NewsGram.

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Terrorism, climate change on Mukherjee’s agenda for talks with Israel

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Jerusalem: Terrorism and climate change will be among the prominent areas during President Pranab Mukherjee’s talks with the Israeli leadership on Wednesday, as the two sides seek to take their ties to a new level with collaborations in a host of subjects.

The president will meet his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day and also address the Knesset, the country’s parliament.

Ahead of the meetings, Mukherjee listed the growing menace of terrorism and extremism, climate change and reforms in global governance as areas where he was keen to discuss with President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“I will seek the assessment of the Israeli leadership about recent developments in the region which have caused concern all over the world and have direct implications for India,” Mukherjee said.

“We are disturbed at the recent violence. India condemns all forms of violence. We have always sought a peaceful resolution of disputes,” the president said.

The remarks, made soon after he was accorded a ceremonial welcome here on Wednesday morning, come against the backdrop of both Israel and Palestine blaming the other for the recent escalation in conflict, which is claiming lives of the nationals of both countries.

The remarks assume greater significance as the president arrived here after visiting Palestine on Tuesday evening, where the leaders wanted New Delhi to strongly take up the issue with the Israelis.

In fact, Mukherjee — during his various engagements in Palestine — had assured India’s full support for the country’s cause, including a separate statehood with East Jerusalem as the capital.

On more than one occasion, he said such support was initiated when India became independent in 1947 and continues even today.

But the Israeli side has been equally concerned that the Indian president did not raise the issue of violence with Palestine from their perspective.

Other areas Mukherjee listed for talks included cooperations in agriculture, defence, education, research, science and cyber security.

“We are also discovering and identifying new areas of complementarities where there is significant potential to be realised. We agree that there are tremendous opportunities for mutually-beneficial collaboration,” Mukherjee said.

(By Arvind Padmanabhan, IANS)

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‘Mukherjee’s Israel visit a historic political milestone’

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New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee’s three-day state visit to Israel from Tuesday, the first by an Indian president, marks an historic political milestone and reflects the continued strengthening of bilateral relations, Israel has said.

Mukherjee, visiting at the invitation of his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin, will receive an official reception at the Israeli president’s residence, after which the two heads of state will hold a working meeting.

Later, Rivlin will host a state dinner in honor of Mukherjee.

Rivlin said the visit of Mukherjee, “more than being an important milestone in the relationship of the two countries, will serve to deepen the friendship between our states, in the fields of economy, science, medicine, and agriculture”.

He said he was looking forward to the Indian president’s visit, “which will represent one of the highlights of the relationship between the Israeli and Indian peoples”.

Mukherjee’s itinerary includes a luncheon with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as meetings with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and with Opposition chairman Isaac Herzog.

Mukherjee is to deliver an address at a special plenary meeting of the Knesset.

On October 15, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will confer an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree upon Mukherjee. The award will be conferred in recognition of his longtime exemplary public service as a leading diplomat and champion of social and financial reform; in tribute to his steadfast commitment to higher education; and in appreciation of his longstanding advocacy of the relationship with the State of Israel, said an official statement from the Israeli embassy here.

(IANS)