Not too long ago, India was Israel’s reluctant partner—eager to secure Israel’s technology and arms but shy and shirking, at best, when it came to reciprocating political warmth.
Not too long ago, India was Israel’s reluctant partner— eager to secure Israel’s technology and arms but shy and shirking, at best, when it came to reciprocating political warmth.
Separated by geography and politics but interlinked by a traditional bond since antiquity, the tricennial of diplomatic ties between India and Israel today is marked by ballyhoo on state broadcasters, commemorative livery and logo, and the announcement of a three-day official visit of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bannett to India, on April 2.
Though India had recognised Israel on September 17, 1950, full-fledged diplomatic relations between the countries were established on January 29, 1992.
The situation was aptly summed up by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a video message released on the completion of 30 years of formal diplomatic ties between the two countries. “There could be no better opportunity to set new goals for IndiaIsrael cooperation than when India is celebrating 75 years of Independence, Israel is about to do the same next year. I am confident our friendship will continue to set new records of mutual cooperation in the decades to come,” PM Modi said.
His sentiments were reciprocated with equal enthusiasm and warmth by Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett: “Today, we celebrate a strong partnership, an incredibly deep friendship, and optimism for the future!” he said.
The two countries are losing no time in walking their talk. On March 15, Rafi Harpaz, Deputy DirectorGeneral for Asia and the Pacific at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and India’s Foreign Secretary, Harsh V. Shingle talked about diverse and cutting edge partnership between the two countries to scale new heights in bilateral cooperation.
Earlier, on March 10 and 11, the first India-Israel Deep Tech Summit was organised in New Delhi by the Confederation of Indian Industries, the Israeli Deep Tech SaaS consultant Innovation and the Embassy of Israel in India. The two-day summit was attended by top technologists, investors and many CEOs of the two countries.
Prof K. Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, predicted that “The horizontals of technology that go across sectors combined with the verticals of deep expertise will allow the scaling of Deep Tech.”
Israel Ambassador Naor Gilon pointed out immense possibilities for the future. “Israel has great tech capabilities and India has a huge market. So I think that by all standards India is better at building big businesses.”
Emphasising that “friendship and trust” were not only positive traits but also “real assets”, the foreign ministers of India and Israel, in a joint op-ed for an Israeli daily.
The new bonhomie picked momentum when Modi became India’s first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel in 2017 and establish a relationship that had mostly grown under the radar for over a quarter-century.
From 1992, while there were defence deals, and cooperation in science, technology and agriculture, India was reticent about its ties with Israel as it balanced this with its historical support for the Palestinian cause, its dependence on the Arab world for oil, and the pro-Palestinian sentiments of the country’s Muslim citizens.
The first high-level visits took place only when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took office. In 2000, L K Advani and Jaswant Singh visited Israel and the two countries set up a joint anti-terror commission. In 2003, Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India.
Unlike his predecessors, Modi went all out to woo Israel. India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment. Israel is the second-largest defence supplier to India. India is Israel’s third-largest Asian trade partner. Bilateral ties have broadened into sensitive areas like high technology products, defence equipment, space, security, and intelligence. Joint production and development of key defence items have emerged as important domains of cooperation. Commercial and development ties now cover agriculture, water management, pharmaceuticals, information technology, etc.
Expanded cooperation across the spectrum is expected to be the pattern in Indo-Israeli ties from now on. Both countries, taking advantage of the upward trajectory of their relations, are interested in exploring new opportunities to forge not only bilateral cooperation but also trilateral and multilateral partnerships with like-minded countries from the region and beyond.
Time-tested Jewish connection
India’s Jew connection with Israel is much older than the formation of the two nations in the mid-20th century.
“Jews have lived in India for over 2000 years in total equality and peacefully, and as someone who arrived after serving quite an extensive period in Europe, I was very much surprised at how much love and appreciation there is in India towards Israel, ” says Naor Gilon, Israel’s envoy to India., underling the age-old ties between the Indians and the Jews.
In fact, Judaism was one of the first foreign religions to arrive in India in recorded history and ancient Jewish communities have assimilated many of the local traditions through cultural diffusion.
Some of them trace their arrival from the time of the Ancient Kingdom of Judah. Others claim they are the descendants of Ancient Israel’s Ten Lost Tribes. Still, others claim descent from Ancient Israel’s tribe of Manasseh and call themselves Bnei Menashe. “The study of Indian Jewish communities demonstrates that in Indian culture, an immigrant group gains status precisely by maintaining its own identity,” writes Prof Nathan Katz in his work on the Jewish community in India.
India’s Jew connection remained uninterrupted during the two World Wars. More than 900 Indian soldiers, who died in the Battle of Hafiz during World War I are buried in the area which later became Israel. Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar in India saved the lives of several Jewish children during World War II by providing them with shelter and taking care of them. It is estimated that India’s Jewish population peaked around 20,000 in the mid1940s, but it began to decline due to its emigration to Israel. According to the Indian envoy to Israel, Sanjeev Singla, nearly 85,000 Jews of Indian origin hold Israeli passports today.
However, nearly 6,000 Jews have remained in India and contributing to its growth and development in many spheres. Lt Gen JFR Jacob, the Chief of Staff of the Western Command of the Indian Army at the time of the 1971 war, Bollywood actress Nadira, theatre personality Pearl Padamsee are some of the eminent figures of the Jewish community in India.