Monday, July 3, 2017

On the verge of history

Tomorrow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will begin his three-day visit to Israel, a historic event that will be the culmination of a 25 year long process that began when Prime Minister PVN Rao established formal diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, although informal, and particularly intelligence-related, relations, have existed since Indira Gandhi established RAW with the assistance of Mossad. But it's not just the post-Independence history that is worth remembering: India's relations with what is today the state of Israel goes back thousands of years, as far back as the Roman Empire, and of course the Liberation of Haifa, which is memorialized at Teen Murti in New Delhi (which is not about Nehru).

Israel has been India's strongest, one-sided ally since Independence. Thanks to the appeasement politics that swept the nation following the loss of territory to Pakistan, Indian leaders bent over themselves to appease Arab Muslim kingdoms by being strongly vocal against Israel - in many cases, even stronger than many of those countries! India has repeatedly voted against Israel at the UN for decades, and given space to anti-Israeli NGOs. And yet, Israel has patiently worked to befriend New Delhi, always taking India's so-called principled stance in their stride. Never has Israel interfered in Kashmir, not has it used the gun of human rights to corner India, although it had every reason to do so. In 1999, at the height of the Kargil War, Israel readily supplied India with crucial radars, even as no other country wanted to get involved in the stand-off. This, to a country that for fifty years refused to recognize it.

PM Modi's visit serves as a historical course-correction to the silly idea that India can condemn Israel in public and yet purchase weapons and share technology from it, while also sharing similar security issues. Israel and India are natural partners for anyone who can view the world from outside the Muslim appeasement lens - and strong, public ties with Israel are merely an acknowledgement of that. Furthermore, by refusing to visit Ramallah on the same visit, PM Modi has finalized India's dehyphenation of Israel and Palestine, which to Israel is much like how the US dehyphenated India and Pakistan under President Bush. As the leading Arab states have covertly done, India must view the two as separate countries, and leave them to bilaterally handle their problems.

For Israel and India, the potential for collaboration is immense, from sectors as varied as agriculture to space. 
From a historical perspective, it is akin to a ghar wapsi for an Indian civilization that has long had contacts with the Jewish people, and with whom we have much history to share. A people whose civilization was wiped out by invaders, a people who have rebuilt an old civilization together with a modern state, and a people who have and continue to face brutal terrorism that seeks to wipe out their existence. For the Hudim and the Yahudim, it is a visit that will change history.

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