The India-Israel relationship: what it means for secularism

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by A.V., May 6, 2011.

  1. A.V.

    A.V. New Member

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    A three-week Indian cultural festival will commence in Israel later this month to commemorate two decades of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Republic of India and the State of Israel. It will be an occasion where the melange of Indian food, dance, and Bollywood will no doubt be celebrated with paeans being sung celebrating the democratic values in the two countries. Of course, it has not always been this way – India and Israel were on opposite sides of the Cold War, with the former being a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause routinely castigating the Jewish state for its “occupation” of Palestine, even as Yasser Arafat was routinely received in New Delhi with a red carpet by his “sister” Indira Gandhi.

    The end of the Cold War also ended the ideological moorings that had plagued India’s vision of world affairs, and in 1992 India’s Congress-led government headed by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao sought to establish full diplomatic relations with the Jewish State. In doing so, he reversed a four decade-old policy, ushering India into a full-blown embrace of Israel reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s grand opening to China in 1972, laced in Kissingerian realism. After all, decades of support for the Palestinian cause had not transformed into any visible Arab support for India on Kashmir and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) summits had become little more than an annual India-bashing exercise. Furthermore, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan had freed up the battle-hardened mujahedeen to take their fights to other lands, and a massively rigged election in Indian-administered Kashmir in 1987 made it ready fodder for waging an insurgency against Indian rule. The demise of the Soviet Union meant that New Delhi had to scout the international horizon for new partners even as it did its best to navigate the choppy waters of international diplomacy. Israel provided a clean slate for such a new beginning to be made, and every Indian government since 1992, irrespective of its political colour, has engaged Israel and transformed the relationship into a truly strategic one.

    A flurry of diplomatic visits between India and Israel in the last decade has brought a highly secretive relationship out of the closet and has become a cornerstone of each other’s security policy. In September 2003, Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India – a visit that raised hackles in Pakistan and much of the Arab world pointing towards New Delhi’s changed paradigm vis-à-vis the Middle East, and indeed underlining a muscular strategic orientation intended for both international and domestic audiences.

    In 2008, Israel surpassed Russia to become India’s leading arms supplier providing New Delhi with everything from hi-tech radar and surveillance systems, nigh-vision equipment and anti-ballistic missile shields, with defence cooperation gradually moving from a seller-buyer relationship towards joint production of military equipment. The same year, an Indian rocket helped launch an Israeli spy satellite and discussions have been underway between the two countries since 2007 for a free trade agreement to boost non-military trade from the current US$ 4.2 billion to US$ 12 billion in the next four years. A record 40,000 Israelis visited India last year, mostly after completing their mandatory military service, while the corresponding figure for Indians travelling to Israel was over 20,000, laying a key foundation for people-to-people understanding.

    However, a large number of critics both in India and abroad see this as not just a security partnership but as a relationship that has strong religious and ideological roots. For critics argue that this is a nexus of political expediency between Jewish Israel and Hindu-majority India against Muslims. Repeated pronouncements about fighting “forces of terrorism together with religious fundamentalism” are seen as a euphemism for fighting Islamists. The fact that ties between the two nations flourished during the tenure of the Hindu-nationalist centre-right wing Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government fuels this perception. This perception was strengthened in 2003 when India’s then National Security Advisor, Brajesh Mishra while addressing a gathering of the American Jewish Community in Washington called for a trilateral alliance between the United States, India and Israel to “jointly face the same ugly face of modern-day terrorism” while contending that “such an alliance would have the political will and moral authority to take bold decisions in extreme cases of terrorist provocation.” Coming as it did barely a year after the September 11 attacks, the proposed alliance acquired ideological trappings fuelling fears of a Huntingtonian clash of civilisations.

    However, it is imperative to cast the India-Israel narrative in a wider net, both for long-term sustenance of the relationship and for the promise that it may hold. Sure enough, India-Israel ties took off during the BJP regime whose leaders sought to inject an ideological colour that washed well with the regime’s domestic constituencies of hard-line Hindus, but the fact is that every government since 1992 has looked to strengthening and broadening the entire gamut of the India-Israeli relationship, and this includes three Congress governments as well as the short-lived Third Front government in the mid-1990s. This has been part of a concerted effort as part of a broader strategic doctrine to engage Israel and in doing so infuse a much-needed degree of balance to India’s Middle East policy. Indeed, as New Delhi assumes a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and campaigns for permanent membership in the Council, its behaviour would be adjudicated by the international community in terms of India’s ability to emerge as an effective and credible international interlocutor on a host of global issues including the contentious Arab-Israeli conflict. This would have to translate as an excellent working relationship with Israel as well as a host of Arab states and New Delhi has been extremely adept at walking the diplomatic tightrope having hosted leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Syria amongst others in the last five years. With great power comes great responsibility and India, if it chose to enter the Middle East’s diplomatic minefield, has all the credentials and evokes the trust to emerge as a key interlocutor.

    For Israel, India represents a country that has both the world’s second largest Muslim population and also a nation that has never had a history of anti-Semitism despite being home to a small, yet significant Jewish population with the first set of Jews arriving in South India 2500 years ago. For a country witnessing the strengthening of right-wing conservative forces, courting India enables Israel to ward off criticism of being a nation antithetical to Muslims besides presenting a genuine opportunity for peace and reconciliation between the two great Abrahamic faiths and to its credit, Tel Aviv understands this. In a historic first, the Israeli ambassador to India, Mark Sofer visited one of the most renowned Sufi shrines in South Asia, at Ajmer Sharif, in September 2010 on the occasion of roza iftar and said, “Israel respects Islam and loves Muslims. We are sons and daughters of Abraham. Islam, Judaism and Christianity are the offshoots of the same faith and that makes us cousins.” Only three years before, in August 2007, a delegation of Muslim leaders headed by Maulana Jamil Ilyasi, president of the All India Organisation of Imams and Mosques which represents about 500,000 imams, headed the Indian delegation for a ‘dialogue of democracies’ designed to foster understanding between the two peoples, highlighting the diversity in the Muslim community and offering a reminder that the majority of Muslims live outside the Arab world and benefit from democracy. Crucially, the trip was aimed at refuting the link between religion and state in the Arab-Israeli conflict, suggesting that democratic states can overcome antagonism over longstanding religious differences. Debunked throughout the trip was the notion that Israel was the mortal enemy of the world’s global community of Muslims or the ummah.

    India’s courtship of Israel cannot be the preserve of one national party with a particular religious appeal for it goes against the very tenets of pluralism that forms the cornerstone of the very ‘idea of India.’ To arrest the perception of the India-Israel relationship being an ostensible marriage of theocratic elements in the two states, the current centre-left Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government must wrest back the initiative, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should embark on a historic visit to the State of Israel to put a pan-Indian secular seal on Delhi’s Tel Aviv policy by becoming the first ever Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. More importantly, it would be an affirmation of India’s success at managing religious diversity against incredible odds, in the process strengthening secular elements within Israel’s polity, which in recent months has displayed a worrying inclination for hard-line religious conservatism. For the broader Middle East narrative, a visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel (and the Palestinian Territories) would send the unambiguous message of New Delhi’s intention to shoulder responsibilities beyond its immediate security periphery while casting the Arab-Israeli conflict as one that is less of a religious conflict and more of a geopolitical one. Doing so would surely send a boost to peaceniks across the region – India owes it to the international community and to its own history.


    Reproduced with permission and creative commons guidelines for non profit use
    article owned by :- Pratyush, freelance writer-researcher, is based in New Delhi, India.
     
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  3. mayfair

    mayfair Elite Member Elite Member

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    A well written opinion piece, though it does go off the tangent when it talks about "..[India] strengthening secular elements within Israel’s polity, which in recent months has displayed a worrying inclination for hard-line religious conservatism." I do not think that ties with India will impact Israel's internal political landscape. As long as that country is surrounded by hostile religious fanatics, nationalist narrative will most likely attract more support.
     
  4. Virendra

    Virendra Moderator Moderator

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    We can learn a lot from Israel's civilian culture of high level preparedness in defense.
    The civilians go through a mandatory (short period) army service. There they are trained not only in shooting etc but also implementing the counter terrorism concepts and one of the most practical, effective self defense systems - Krav Maga.

    The challenges India faces and is going to face in future coincide with what Israel faces on a daily ongoing basis. We ought to take cues from them.
    I wonder if there would be 163 casualties on 26/11, had even 5 of the deceased been armed with licensed semi automatic pistols or even with Krav Maga for close combat.
    We just don't have that culture anymore in our society and we better re-cultivate that, before it comes to mourn more dead bodies.

    Regards,
    Virendra
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2011
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  5. S.A.T.A

    S.A.T.A Senior Member Senior Member

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    If there is anything that we can imbibe from the Israelis,it is that they have strong sense of their nationhood anchored as it is to their Judaic civilization.Israelis are no less 'secular' in their political organization, yet no principle of political expediency is allowed to inflict itself on the fact that Judaism is their national-cultural identity.It is this sense of perfect belonging to that identity that gives the Israelis their sense of belonging and their unflinching determination to defend it at any cost.....Unfortunately our sense of identity is too caught up in the cobwebs of political principles that has kept us away from our national core.
     
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  6. Nonynon

    Nonynon Regular Member

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    Good article and may the ties last forever. Im also happy to read those responses :)

    But to point out a few things: In the cold war Israel and India weren't much rivals, Israel supplied India with some arms in the 70's and a little before that. Not to mention the shared enemy of the British empire in the early days of the cold war. Until the mid 50's Israel was more of a half fence sitter half pro Soviet in the cold war. Israel never liked USA's support for the middle east Muslim stats anyway (except Turkey and Shah time Iran).
    As for "Israel’s polity, which in recent months has displayed a worrying inclination for hard-line religious conservatism" - its downright bull****. That kind of thinking is based on growing western leftists anti Israel propaganda (through means such as BBC) due to recent events, mostly Israel's almost spotless victory in Gaza and the Marmara raid but also because of the growing Muslim and leftist communities in the Western world. Becareful not to get fooled by those propaganda criticisms.
    But its interesting to see the diffrance in the responses to that thinking. Here its 'we can change Israel for the better' or 'it doesn't matter too much' and in the western world its 'boycott the Zionist nazis!'.
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2011
  7. Dark_Prince

    Dark_Prince Regular Member

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    I find Israel far more liberal and secular with 25-30% minority population (which does not wanna leave even for petro-dollars) speaks for itself, moreover Israel is zillion times liberal than any islamic country leave alone its immediate neighbors!

    I have not forgotten your help in Kargil war....and Damn I will never forget it!

    Long Live India-Israel Friendship!
     
  8. Virendra

    Virendra Moderator Moderator

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    I'd be thankful if you can throw more light on that, or anything I could read online?


    Regards,
    Virendra
     
  9. JBH22

    JBH22 Senior Member Senior Member

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    I hardly remember any Muslim state supporting India on Kashmir issue well we don't need it either:)
     
  10. Nonynon

    Nonynon Regular Member

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    theres this
    As much as I hate haaretz newspaper, this is a good article.
    http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/the-jewish-general-who-beat-pakistan-1.133918

    wiki
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2011
  11. Tronic

    Tronic Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Although I do feel for the Palestinians due to their miserable conditions, and continuously having Israel eat away at their land; one can't help but notice the openly terror endorsing leaders which are propping up in Palestinian land. Although this may be attributed to Israel in many ways (wonder how desperate Palestinians are to invite AQ, or anyone else, to come and fight for them), I think it is best India sits on the fence on this one. To India, Israel has been a very good friend, and moreover we share the same values for a free, liberal and tolerant society. For the Palestinian issue, India should continue to provide economic aid to them but diplomatically, India has far more issues to resolve at her own borders than try to indulge in other's issues. For Israel, India should continue to foster a positive relationship with them.
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2011
  12. Dark_Prince

    Dark_Prince Regular Member

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  13. KS

    KS Bye bye DFI Veteran Member

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    What has India-Israel relationship got to do with Secularism - Nothing,Nilch,Nada.

    Because Secularism means for all religions and I don't think Hindus or Sikhs or Buddhists or Jains or even Christians have any problem with Israel. Some among the Islamic community may have problems, but that doesn't mean anything as long as India as a nation is benefited from the relationship.The religious feelings may stay in the closet.

    If India tomorrow has a problem with Nepal, I will not be writing articles India-Nepal Problem , what this means of Hinduism.

    p.s.; I dont like this habit of making Islamism or minorityism as a synonym of "Secularism" as it has been tried in this article.:tsk:

    Saddam's Iraq was a strong supporter of India on Kashmir issue and he recognized Kashmir as an integral part of India. Sad that one of India's trusted friend in the Arab world is no more.

    http://www.expressindia.com/news/fullstory.php?newsid=12402
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2011
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  14. prototype

    prototype Regular Member

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    Why Arab is concerned much about the changed status of India vis a vis Israel and Palestine issue,not many of them support as in the Kashmir issue,we r also banned from OIC even after having the 3rd biggest Muslim population,for Khamini Kashmir is a disputed zone,but still have a problem with India relaying Israeli satellite.

    Though I am waiting for the day when India officially announce Israel as our strategic front line partner,hope religion will not be an issue by that time.
     
  15. SpArK

    SpArK SORCERER Senior Member

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  16. lemontree

    lemontree Defence Professionals Defence Professionals

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    I was thinking the same thing.
     
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  17. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Saddam was indeed a great supporter of India.

    Actually, there is nothing wrong with the Muslim countries. It is just that their mindset is warped, where they convert every issue into a religious one.

    It appears that Muslim countries cannot think beyond their religion, and yet they are the first to be at each other's throat over the Sunni Shia ascendancy as the true beholder of Islam. Full of contradictions that consumes the clarity of thought for them.

    While one feels concerned about the Palestinians, but then India has followed a very fine line between relationship with Israel and with the Arab world and one has to thank PM Narashimha Rao for this.

    National interests are held paramount on deliberations over each issue.
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2011
  18. Iamanidiot

    Iamanidiot Elite Member Elite Member

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    @Brigadier Saddam was such a greater supporter of India that when Indhira Gandhi died he literally locked all the sikhs in IRaq.It was due to the request of the Indian embassy that helped to release the Sikhs
     
  19. Tshering22

    Tshering22 Sikkimese Saber Senior Member

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    This should be a matter of shame rather than pride. Indira created a demon that took a toll of not just one community but the entire spirit of the nation.
     
  20. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    I really want to take this concept of "Support on Kashmir" brought up regularly when this topic comes up

    What does that really mean? Does it mean supporting the Indian position that the dispute should be resolved bilaterally? If yes then isn't that the same position of almost all Arab countries as well as Israel, what is the major difference in that? Even all major western countries like the US, UK, France hold the same policy where they say that the dispute should be resolved bilaterally. news.outlookindia.com | Have No Position on Kashmir Issue: Arab League
    For reference, the Pakistani position is that a plebiscite be conducted in Kashmir. And other than Pakistan, no country has this as an official position. Arab or non-Arab.

    In fact, only Iraq afaik actually came out in full support by declaring Kashmir an integral part of India Iraq conveys support to India on Kashmir - Economic Times

    Even during the Kargil war, the Saudis for example categorically asked Nawaz Sharif to suspend all military operations and withdraw back to the LoC. A move people would say was more siding with India than Pakistan.
    Or how about when all western countries along with Pakistan and other OIC members in 1994 were sponsoring a resolution to condemn India for HR violations in Kashmir, it was Iran that stepped in from going ahead. How Iran saved India – in 1994


    The real difference between the policies of Arab countries and their relationship with India is not a religious issue as some believe but a backdrop of Cold War equations. Saddam's Iraq, Syria, Arafat's PLO, Egypt under Nasser, Iran AFTER the pro-US Shah and others were all leftist socialist govt. that naturally sided with India. While Pakistan, Iran under the Shah, the Gulf states, Jordan, Turkey were all part of the Allies block. In fact, Israel also helped Pakistan in the anti-Soviet Afghan war because of this Cold war backdrop. And Pakistan, covertly, accepted their help. And it is an open secret that pro-US regimes like Saudi Arabia, UAE keep back door channels with Israel on security issues. While Egypt, Jordan and Turkey do so openly. For these countries, the emergence of revolutionary leftist regimes in their country or their neighboring states was the biggest danger in which Israel was an ally. It was just the nature of the Cold war backdrop.

    Now that the USSR is no more, the equations have been changing for the past 20 years. With Israel we established full diplomatic relations and in 2001 Jaswant Singh made the first ministerial visit to Saudi Arabia in 30 years. More recently we have improved relations with Turkey and Jordan and other pro-US Arab countries. In fact, after the destruction of Iraq which had the largest Arab army until 1991, India probably lost its most major partner in Iraq from the socialist era and is probably more closer to pro-US regimes than the leftist ones.


    The author is also right in one aspect and I fully agree with him on that. The narrative of India-Israeli partnership against "Islamists" in a clash of civilizations worldview that some people may relish is utterly counter productive and fanciful. The relationship has and should continue to expand by having a wider and wider base of support. In particular is the inaccurate comparison of the India-Kashmir issue to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Where people who do so don't realize that they are falling for the Pakistani propaganda by linking this together. (http://defenceforumindia.com/documentary/8475-kashmir-not-palestine-india-not-israel.html)

    This paragraph says it all

    The GoI position, IMO has taken a fair and consistent view of upholding the two state solution and that means opposing the illegal settlements while at the same recognizing the legitimacy of the Israeli state and building our partnership with Israel. At the same, India has supported the Arab peace plan where the Arab League and more recently the OIC has endorsed a complete establishment and recognizing of Israel by all countries based on the same two state solution plan.

    However, while India is looked upon as a neutral player in the dispute and has a lot of good will both on the Palestinian and Israeli side, I would caution from intervening in the peace process. Right now, we are not as influential to force a solution and it would be better to only state our position but not get into the nitty gritty of the issue.

    But a state visit by MMS to Israel and the Palestinian territories in West Bank/Gaza would be a phenomenal visit which I think would be well worth it. Especially if as reported earlier, the PM is planning to visit Iran as well, it would be wise to append a visit to Israel/Palestine as well.
     

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