De-hyphenating : Bilateral Ties

India and Israel have certainly moved faster on bilateral track in the last 25 years. Compare many other relationships, this one is a more vibrant and trustworthy bilateral relationship

In the backdrop of India’s vote at the UN against the US move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s  capital, Prime Minister of  Israel Netanyahu  is  visiting India. He  will  be the only  second by any Israeli Prime Minister since the formalisation of diplomatic relations in 1992. In 2003, Ariel Sharon’s trip  was  the  first   one. Though  trade, agriculture and science and technology have been the major areas of cooperation for both the countries, civilisational linkages between Hindus and Jews and  common  concerns on counter-terrorism are  the  real drivers  that   is   underpinning  of the  bilateral ties.   The  real threat to this has been the conventional policy linking of  bilateral relations with  the  Israel-Palestine Conflict by previous Indian Governments. While the official diplomatic ties completing 25  years, how totake the de-hyphenation process forward  in  bilateral relations is the key question that we need to address.

Unloading the ‘Secular’ Baggage

After voting against the Partitioning of Palestine plan of 1947 and admission of  Israel to the United

Nations in 1949, India officially recognised the State of  Israel on September 17, 1950.  Following India’s recognition  of Israel,  Indian Prime  Minister Jawaharlal  Nehru stated, “We would have [recognised 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.” Of  course, the  oil-dependent on the  Arab  World, India  was  very cautious while dealing with Israel, though it was believed as ‘a fact’.

More importantly, it  was the   fraudulent   execution  of ‘secularism’ that thwarted  all chances of strengthening the bilateral ties with Israel on civilisational terms. Though, Jews always recognised  India   as   the true friend and the only country where they did  not have to face the  persecution, the  Congress, Communists,   Socialists,  Liberal intellectuals –  the ‘secularists’ always gave the prime importance to  the  ‘Palestine Cause’, linking it  to  the  Muslims of India. 

The honourable exception was Hindu- Nationalists who  always admired Israel’s struggle for nationhood and believed that India should have a strong ties with the Jew country.

The   deceptive   consideration  of the   universal brotherhood  of Islam  led  to  partition  of   India. The  ‘Muslim sentiments’  was  the key  factor  in   taking a  stand  on many key domestic and global issues and support to the Caliphat movement was a starting point for it.  After independence, the same deception guided not only  the domestic political considerations but  also  our foreign  policy choices  and   the   ‘informality’ in bilateral   relations   with   Israel  is the  classic example of  that.   This policy continued  even  during the difficult times  of   1962   War   with China and 1971 War  with Pakistan, when Israel was ready to support India militarily in  exchange of  full diplomatic ties. Only in 1992, under the leadership of  P.V.  Narasimha Rao,  India  established   a   full- fledged diplomatic relationship with Israel by opening an embassy in Tel Aviv. Fortunately, the process was  taken  forward  in   the  post Cold-War environment by all the  successive governments.  Of course,  the   ability  of   defence- strong nation exhibited its  ability to   supply   military   technology and equipments  to India during the times of duress at the time of Kargil conflict. The last thaw in this process  was Prime Minister Modi visiting Israel in July  2017, without visiting Palestine.

Rekindling the Natural Alliance

Primarily, there  are  two  reasons that   should  be  foundation   of India-Israel relations – civilisational ethos  and commitment to democracy.  These  two should be positive imperators of the bilateral relations and not on the negative presumption  of   alliance against the Muslim world.

Common experience derived from deep  history and  culture’  is  an important factor  not appreciated by many while assessing this relationship. The Indian and Jewish civilizations are much older than many other existing religious with a strong tradition of inter-religious dialogue and  acceptance. Words of  Sanskrit origin appeared  in  the Hebrew   Bible  3,000   years  ago, while Jewish authors of Roman times, rabbis of  the Talmud, and Jewish traders  and  philosophers in the Middle Ages spoke of India. Both Hinduism and Judaism do not practice religious conversion as a method of propagation and still believe that ‘the  Supreme Being’ is one and omnipresent. The  strong connect  with  the   nature  and belief in  knowledge society is also common to both the civilisations. The   common experiences of historical persecution and present day  terrorism are important  add on factors to this.

The positive experiences of Jewish people in  India and contribution of Indian soldiers in Battle of Haifa (1918) that proved  to be critical in creation of Israel in 1948 can come handy in furthering the cause.

Both the countries attained their independent status on the world scene and adopted democratic form of governments despite all odds.  India  and  Israel not  only exemplified smooth democratic functioning but also created their own vibrant democratic culture. This soft-power foundation of civilisational and democratic values   would   further    enhance the  possibility of  de-hyphenated bilateral relations.

The way forward

India and Israel have certainly moved faster on bilateral track in the last 25  years. Compare  many other relationships, this one is more vibrant and  trustworthy  bilateral relationship.  Trade, technology and defense are definite potential areas that will  take it  forward  in the  conducive environment. The growing prominence of innovation in economic activity can strengthen the bond between the two economies. Still this would not be sufficient to absorb the shocks of    international pressures  and turmoil.  Israel,   with the  struggle for existence since inception, has learnt the art of  dealing with contradictions effectively. There  is  a  lesson or   two in  this regard that India can learn.

There are many Jews in Israel who carry India with them and there are number of Jews in India for whom India is a motherland.

It is not just the power you possess but rightful exhibition of the same at the right time is  important  in modern day Westphalian realist world. Modi led Government is experimenting  with the  same  in many   regards.   The   experiences of  Israel can come  handy in  this endeavour.

Israel has created a system of reviving, preserving and recontexualising own knowledge system to carve out the niche for self  on the  global scene. India is still  finding hard to come out of the   colonial  mindset,  especially in  the  intellectual space. Sharing experiences with each other in this regard would be helpful in building confidence about each ones role  in the emerging world order.

There are many Jews in Israel who carry  India  with  them   and  still, there are number of Jews in  India for  whom  India is  a motherland. In India, very few have enough exposure  to  Judaism,  Hebrew or Israel.   The  absence of  diplomatic relations  did   not   allow  us    to have  a strong  Indian diaspora in Israel.   Education and science and technology are two fields that can provide ample opportunities to quality human  resource  of   India in  Israel.   Exploring this  possibility to  the  maximum extent will   be worthwhile for both the countries.

The  process de-linking the  India- Israel relations from the Palestine conflict  and   the   larger  Islamic world  is   imperative  not  just  for the   two   countries   involved  but for  the entire world. The  revival  of civilisational wisdom in  managing the bilateral relationship in  a complex  world by these  two countries can be a role  model for many  others. Both the  countries have  shown enough  maturity by understanding and accepting each  other’s compulsions on the international fora.  Now deepening the  bilateral ties with or  without the stable conditions in the Islamic World  is   the  real  test.  The   visit of   Prime  Minister  Netanyahu  to India can be a step forward in that direction.

Prafulla Ketkar

About Prafulla Ketkar

Prafulla Ketkar is Editor of Organiser Weekly. He is well known for his writings on strategic and foreign policy issues. Ketkar is co-author of the book ‘Alternative Approaches to Security’.
View all posts by Prafulla Ketkar →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *