Shalom Prime Minister Modi

The Israeli right looks forward to welcoming VD Savarkar’s follower as the first Indian prime minister to visit it in 70 years.

WrittenBy:Anchal Vohra
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The streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv bear no sign of Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit yet but the Israeli diplomats are gearing up for what they call ‘a historic event.’

‘Namaste Modi Ji’ is a video put together by the Embassy of Israel in India welcoming the first ever Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel.

“Modi will receive the same red carpet as Trump did,” says Tel Shalev, an Israeli TV news journalist. “That is a way for Bibi to tell Modi how important he is,” she adds.

According to Israeli analysts, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or Bibi as he is called, considers Modi to be a great friend of Israel and has been invested in making the visit happen ever since Modi’s election as Prime Minister.

A ‘right’ time for the visit

Ofer Zalzburg, a member of the international crises centre in Jerusalem, attributes the confidence in the Modi government to the similarities in the ideologies of the right wing political parties in both countries. He takes the example of Israeli religious attitudes towards the Temple Mount which the Muslims call Haram al Sharif with the BJP’s politics over the Ram temple in India, which the Muslims claim to be a mosque built by Mughal emperor Babar.

Modi is similar in stature to Benjamin Netanyahu, the right wing nationalist Likud party’s chief, but interestingly also with a 40-year-old politician Neftali Bennett who represents modern orthodox Jews and runs a nationalist ‘religious’ party called Habayit Hayehudi or Jewish home.

Zalzburg says, “As you know, religious Zionism is ascendant in Israel. Modi’s success in winning the premiership can be viewed as a precursor for Israel’s religious Zionists like Bennett to do the same.”

Formerly a member of an elite army unit, Bennett’s core vote comes from Israelis settled in Palestinian areas. From 250 in 1968, the settlements have grown to 3,82,000 in 2015 and Bennett proposes to take over more land inhabited by Palestinians. His popularity pushed Netanyahu further right on the question of settlements in the last elections.

Gregg Carlstrom, the author of How long will Israel survive? The threat from within, finds the internal politics of both countries moving in a similar manner, with division between the liberals and the conservatives getting deeper and reports of a clampdown on civil society appearing often. He says, “Driven by right wing ideologies, politics in both countries is very similar. Both Netanyahu and Bennett are the ‘Modis’ of Israel.”

Bennett is also a high-tech millionaire and has visited India as the minister of economy. When asked about PM Modi’s visit, he told Newslaundry, “I and the entire state of Israel, look forward to the historic visit of PM Modi. Our people have a similar past, of rich ancient histories and British rule until our independence in 1947.”

His emphasis on a common colonial past is intriguing since before the formation of the Israeli state, the area was dominated by the Palestinians.  The Jews have always claimed it to be their historical, biblical home, though back in the 1940s there were no takers for Israel’s claims in India, except for the father of the right wing movement Hindutva.

From Vinayak Damodar to Narendra Damodardas

Samuel P. Huntington, an American political scientist, called the birth of nations after World War II; the second phase of democratisation. These newly democratic nation states wanted to exercise an independent foreign policy and looked at the British suspiciously.

Nehru was a staunch anti-imperialist and his pro-Palestine policy stood against Britain’s Balfour Declaration that called for the formation of an Israeli state on the land mostly inhabited by Palestinians.

An added incentive for Nehru to oppose Israel was to have cordial ties with the Arab countries, which helped him in making a case of Hindu-Muslim unity at home in India.

Mahatma Gandhi sympathised with the Jews but didn’t agree that they needed their own country on the basis of religion and unequivocally called Palestine Arab land.

Hindutva leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar opposed Gandhi and Nehru. He agreed with the Israelis that the land was home to the Jews 2000 years before the advent of Islam.

Savarkar saw the Jewish State as an opportunity and envisaged an alliance with Israel to be in favour of India’s national interest. He advocated a foreign policy aimed at keeping the Muslim power in the broader neighbourhood in check.

Seventy years later, Savarkar’s follower Narendra Modi is landing in Israel to cement Indo-Israel ties. The threat of ‘Islamic’ radicalism is right at the top of the agenda.

Kashmir and Palestine

India has been bearing the brunt of terrorism emanating from Pakistan for decades and accuses Pakistan’s rogue military for growing terror networks.

Despite India’s support to the Palestinian cause, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – a grouping of Muslim countries across the globe, has supported Pakistan on Kashmir.

In 2003, the national security adviser of the then BJP-led NDA government, Brajesh Mishra, questioned what did India achieve by supporting Palestine? He had said, “Did they vote for us on Kashmir?”

India feels let down by the Arab world on Kashmir and the consensus in South Block has evolved around getting closer to Israel by maintaining its support for an independent future Palestinian state.

By visiting Israel and not the Palestinian authorities, the Indian government must be aware of the risk of coming out too strongly and being clubbed alongside a country that the majority of the countries in the United Nations see as an occupier. 

The author can be contacted on Twitter @anchalvohra.


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