Good News Friday Part I: The Israel-India renewed friendship

The visit this week of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first ever official visit of an Indian Prime Minister to Israel, is too important to relegate to a small item in a regular Good News Friday post, so this week you shall receive a double portion (just like the Manna in the wilderness 😀 )

Indian PM Narendra Modi and Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel’s welcome of Modi was almost ecstatic. Not only the Prime Minister and the government, but the people of Israel too were delighted with the visit of this remarkable man. The warmth between the two nations was expressed right from the start, on Modi’s descending from his plane onto the tarmac. Watch just the first minutes of PM Modi’s (25 minute long) video to understand:

As Modi said:

Israellycool’s Aussie Dave remarks on Modi’s choice of clothing:

But there is even more to the level of respect and affection than meets the eye. The Times of India explains that even PM Modi’s fashion choice was meant as a tribute to Israel.

He wore a white suit with a blue handkerchief to represent the colours of Israel. What a beautiful gesture! What a mensch!

As to the substance of the visit, Vijeta Uniyal, writing at Israellycool, gives us some more background to the visit:

With bilateral relations at all-time high, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has embarked on a 3-day visit to Israel today. Prime Minister Modi becomes the first ever sitting Indian premier to visit the Jewish State.

Developmental issues such as agriculture technology and water management will be high on agenda during the historic visit that marks the 25 years of bilateral diplomatic ties. Both countries are expected to sign an agreement setting up a $40 million innovation fund to finance joint research in agriculture, water, energy and technology during the prime ministerial visit.

“In the last few years the world has seen the India Israel relationship come out from the perception of just Defense related activities to showcasing a fantastic connection in agricultural, educational, entrepreneurial & cultural cooperation. It’s these new areas which are making this bilateral a model for the rest of the world to follow.” Rishi Suri, senior international affairs editor at Indian newspaper Daily Milap, told Israellycool.

Vijeta Uniyal wrote another piece at Legal Insurrection on Israel and India’s newly upgraded ties during the historic visit:

“Narendra Modi receives extraordinary welcome as he begins path-breaking visit to Israel,” noted Indian financial daily Economic Times.  “The personal chemistry and the warmth between Modi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was apparent in their remarks and their hugs.” The newspaper noted the significance of the visit that goes beyond the impressive personal rapport that both world leaders have managed to forge:

Behind the overt affection and friendship, lies deep political significance as India for the first time has delinked its relationship with Israel from its traditional support to Palestine. But, India now hopes to leverage its relationship with Israel to attract more investment, and gain from Israeli cutting-edge technology and defence.

“Investments to boost tourism, education and cultural ties and building bridges with the Indian diaspora in Israel can help boost ties between the two countries,” wrote the leading Indian business daily Mint. “Indeed, these are the low-hanging fruits in the bilateral relationship that can be plucked right away.”

Indian PM Narendra Modi and Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu on Modi’s arrival in India

“Red carpet welcome done, PM Narendra Modi gets down to business in Israel today,” reported the Indian news channel NDTV. “Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who usually meets visiting heads of government for a meeting and over dinner or lunch meeting, will accompany PM Modi to most engagements.”

On a historic visit that started with firm handshakes, hugs and a smattering of Hindi and Hebrew, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get down to business today with back-to-back meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders that will focus on cooperation on defence, security, water and more. Apart from the multiple pacts that the two strategic partners are expected to seal at Wednesday’s meetings, the two leaders are also expected to deliver a strong message against terrorism in their joint statement. Both leaders had yesterday spoken in one voice to resolutely combat terrorism and radicalism.

India-Israel partnership in the field of start-up alone has a revenue potential of $25 billion, projected NASSCOM, the association of Indian IT companies. Indian daily Financial Expresspublished the excerpts of a report compiled by NASSCOM and consultancy firm Accenture:

Revenue worth USD 25 billion can be generated in India and Israel through cumulative cross- border investment into start-ups in these two countries, a joint report by Nasscom and Accenture today said. The report titled ‘Collaborative Innovation: The vehicle driving Indo-Israel prosperity’ noted India and Israel’s innovation ecosystems share unique innovation complementary traits in three areas — temperament, talent and technology.

The reaction in India to Narendra Modi’s visit was surprisingly very positive across all sectors of the country, even among their large Muslim minority as Vijeta Uniyal reports:

In a stunning display, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel received favourable coverage from across the Indian media landscape. The Indian Prime Minister was in Israel on a 3-day visit, first ever by an Indian premier.

Prime Minister Modi’s visit lays “the foundation of a new chapter in relations with Israel,” commented the country’s leading business daily Economic Times. Both countries took “historic steps towards a new engagement,” wrote newspaper Hindustan Times. Like many Indian newspapers, The Hindu described the visit as “ground-breaking” and noted the “extraordinary welcome” Indian leader received in “the Jewish nation.”

“In reorienting India’s foreign policy, Narendra Modi is responding to history and realpolitik,” commented the often left-leaning Indian news website, FirstPost.

“It is time Muslims rethink their idea of Israel,” wrote the Indian-Muslim commentator Tufail Ahmad. “Muslims in India must keep in mind that their success lies in India’s prosperity. As India makes rapid progress, the fruits of economic development and growing educational opportunities will inevitably reach Muslims as well. However, India’s economic progress lies in its strong security partners: Israel and the US.”

There were prominent voices in support of Prime Minister’s visit, even within the main opposition Congress Party. The former Deputy Foreign Minister Shashi Tharoor praised Prime Minister Modi’s diplomacy on Israel. “[This] shows our relationship has reached a level of maturity which makes it possible for us to contemplate first ever PM visit [to Israel],” Tharoor said.

SwarajyaMag, India’s leading centre-right magazine with a young readership, praised Prime Minister Modi’s diplomatic initiative, urging the government to “disassociate itself completely from the Palestinian question” and seek greater strategic cooperation with Israel.  Ahead of Modi’s visit, the publication was blunt in its assessment of India’s foreign policy, stating “[the Visit] does not upend India’s decades-long policy by betraying a tilt towards the Jewish state.” Criticising India’s track record at the UN and other international fora, SwarajyaMag wrote:

A truly historic moment would be if India were to disassociate itself completely from the Palestinian question – it is not as if it has contributed in any meaningful way all these years. The issue does not affect India and is best left to the concerned parties to resolve, much as India insists on Kashmir. If India’s voting at international fora were to shift to reflect this new position, such a move would give Israel much diplomatic room to manoeuvre.

Of course there was whining from the Palestinian camp, but that is hardly news. It would only be newsworthy if they had welcomed such a visit.

As for Israel, PM Modi’s visit and the deepening of bilateral relations has very important implications on the diplomatic front.  Firstly, it shows that Israel can improve foreign relations even in the absence of a peace process, as Raphael Ahren writes in the Times of Israel:

But amid all the compliments paid and deals struck, perhaps most striking about Modi’s historic visit were the things that weren’t mentioned. Iran — a close Indian ally — for example. The Islamic Republic’s ongoing destabilizing actions in the region and continuous calls for Israel’s destruction were not raised, or at least not publicly.

In meetings with world leaders, even those with good relations to Tehran, Netanyahu usually doesn’t shy away from talking about Iran. Last December in Astana, for instance, he asked Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to send a message to Tehran. “Ask … why Iran continues to threaten us with annihilation. Don’t you understand: we’re not a rabbit. We’re a tiger,” he said.

Hosting Modi, Netanyahu refrained from belligerent statements directed at Tehran, despite the fact that Iranian terrorists were responsible for a 2012 terror attack in New Delhi, during which an Israeli was wounded. India never made any arrests in this case.

More importantly, the Palestinian issue was entirely absent from Modi’s visit. The Indian leader’s intention to separate Delhi’s friendship to Israel from its support for the Palestinians was evident once it emerged that Modi would visit Israel but skip the Palestinian Authority. But it was even more remarkable that in several speeches Modi made in Israel, he never cited the issue.

In a two-page joint statement the governments of Israel and India released Wednesday, the two leaders dedicated but one of 22 paragraphs to their discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. “They underlined the need for the establishment of a just and durable peace in the region,” the declaration read. “They reaffirmed their support for an early negotiated solution between the sides based on mutual recognition and security arrangements.”

The premier of India — a state which in 1947 opposed the UN Partition Plan and, 65 years later, supported granting the “State of Palestine” nonmember state status at the UN General Assembly — did not endorse Palestinian statehood once during his time here. He did not mention the two-state solution or the principle of two states for two peoples.

Herb Keinon in the Jerusalem Post similarly notes that Narendra Modi spent over two days in the country – and never once mentioned the Palestinians, nor did he visit them.

But one of the most refreshing aspects for Netanyahu was certainly that Modi did not publicly lecture or hector about the Palestinian issue. Had he come here and not coupled his visit with a quick trip to Ramallah to see Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, that – in Netanyahu’s eyes – would have been enough.

But Modi did even more than that. He didn’t even mention the Palestinians in public. He didn’t slam Israel for the settlements. And in the joint statement carefully drawn up by both sides spelling out the underpinnings of the relationship, the Palestinians were not mentioned until the 20th clause of a 22-clause document.

And even there, India – which was the first non-Muslim country in 1987 to recognize “Palestine” – spoke only generically about a “just and durable peace in the region,” without explicitly calling for a two-state solution.

Netanyahu had to wish that all his guests – especially those from Europe – behaved like Modi.

Why? What happened? How come Modi, whose country for decades was at the forefront of championing the Palestinian cause, did not even give the issue public lip service while here.

There are many reasons, some having to do with how Asians do business, others with how Modi prepared the ground for the trip, and still others dealing with India’s emerging power and status in the world.

First a word about style. India, unlike many of the European countries, does not like “megaphone diplomacy.”

One of the reasons, the officials said, is that India detests when other countries lecture and hector it about its fraught relationship with Pakistan, an indication New Delhi has internalized – at least when it comes to Israel – Hillel’s famous dictum about not doing to others what is hateful to you.

Secondly, Modi could get away with making this a strictly bilateral trip because he carefully prepared the ground for it.

Elected in 2014, there was talk that he would come to Israel already in the summer of 2015. He didn’t. He waited. He first went to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and Iran, where he obviously explained the nature of India’s relationship with Israel, and that improved ties with Israel would not come at their expense.

He also invited PA President Mahmoud Abbas to New Delhi in May, publicly supported a Palestinian state, and pledged that India’s historical support for the Palestinians would not waver.

In other words, he got all his ducks in a row before making his historic trip to Israel, something important from an Indian perspective considering that more than seven million Indians live and work in the Persian Gulf.

One of the reasons often given in the past for the brakes the Indians put on the relationship with Israel, was that a high-profile relationship would infuriate India’s Muslims.

It doesn’t.

India’s Muslims did not take to the streets when it became clear Modi wanted to visit, they didn’t raise a hue and cry. One conclusion is that the resonance of the Palestinian issue on the Muslim- populations in non-Arab countries is not as great as is often imagined. Another conclusion is that with all the turmoil in the Middle East, with the hundreds and thousands who have died in the region since the Arab Spring, the Palestinian issue has simply dropped as a priority issue.

If only other countries could learn from India and follow their lead, how different would the world, particularly the Middle East, look today.

And lastly, some highlights from PM Narendra Modi’s visit via the ToI link above:

The three-day visit was brimful with grand gestures — including plenty of Modi’s trademark hugs — and mutual declarations of love and admiration. Modi’s jam-packed itinerary comprised political talks with the government and the leader of the opposition, and secret talks on improving counter-terrorism coordination. There was an emotional meeting with an 11-year-old Jewish boy who lost his parents in the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. Modi addressed a Bollywood-infused concert/rally for Israelis with Indian roots. And after paying his respect to the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, he spontaneously visited the nearby grave of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl.

A floricultural center named a flower after him, and he took a stroll with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the beach. The photos of the two leaders, their bare feet in the water as they chatted about Israeli desalination techniques, will go down in history as one of the most iconic images to come out of Israel since Netanyahu and Barack Obama took off their suit jackets at Ben Gurion Airport in March 2013.

 

Watch the two leaders at the beach. 🙂

 

On the economic front, too, the visit will have an impressive lasting impact. Israel and India established a $40 million Industrial R&D and Innovation Fund, and individual companies from both nations signed deals worth millions. Jerusalem and Delhi signed seven bilateral agreements, covering technology, agriculture, water and even space research. “We already agreed that the sky is not the limit because we’re doing it in space, but I think that the talents that we have in India and Israel are amazing and the possibilities are amazing,” Netanyahu said Thursday at the launch of the Israel-India CEOs’ Forum.

Modi formally invited Netanyahu to visit India, something the Israeli leader had dreamed about for years.

On a more serious note, in a very moving and emotional moment , Modi met with Moshe Holzberg, the little boy who was saved by his Indian nanny during a terror attack in Mumbai in which his parents, Chabad emissaries Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holzberg Hy’d, were killed.

The 11-year-old son of Chabad emissaries who were murdered in a 2008 jihadist rampage in Mumbai told visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he loves India and wants to return to complete the mission of his slain parents, during an emotional meeting Wednesday.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C-L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C-R) meet with Moshe Holtzberg (C), and his nanny Sandra Solomon and with other relatives at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on July 5, 2017. ( AFP PHOTO / POOL / ATEF SAFADI)

Modi met with Moshe Holtzberg, pulling the boy close for an embrace and telling him that he would always be welcome in India.

Moshe’s nanny, Sandra Samuel, escaped from the Nariman Chabad House carrying 2-year-old Moshe in November 2008 after the building came under siege. Four Jewish victims were killed, including Moshe’s parents, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg. Samuel has remained in Israel and was at the meeting as well.

At their meeting at a hotel in Tel Aviv, Modi immediately embraced Moshe, pulling him close and cupping his head against his chest before inviting him to come back to India.

The boy, accompanied by his grandparents who are raising him, welcomed the Indian premier to Israel.

Wearing a lapel pin with Indian and Israeli flags, he read out a message in halting English, telling Modi, “I hope I will be able to visit Mumbai, and when I get older, live there. I will be the director of our Chabad House” in place of his murdered father. “With God’s help, this is my answer.”

“Dear Mr. Modi,” Holtzberg concluded, “I love you and your people in India.”

I challenge you to have a dry eye at seeing this courageous little boy, all grown up, speaking two or three languages, and having developed so well thanks to his brave  nanny Sandra Solomon and his wonderful grandparents and family.

And one more item from Modi’s visit to conclude this enjoyable post:

The Indian-Israeli community went gaga over Modi’s visit, celebrating in a jubilant fashion:

On Wednesday, thousands of Indian Israelis gathered in the city to greet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a glitzy, wild welcome for the first premier from their home country to visit the Jewish state.

Brightly colored Indian saris mingled with jeans and t-shirts — and not a few kippot and religious headscarves — at Wednesday’s event, which began with several Bollywood dance acts and a concert.

Members of the Indian community in Israel celebrate during the official visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the Convention Center in Tel Aviv, on July 5, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

 

Bollywood dancing at festivities celebrating Modi’s visit to Israel

“It gives me chills,” said Naomi Yakub, who immigrated to Israel from India in the early 1970s and is part of a community of some 100,000 Indian Jews living in the country. For the Jewish community in Israel, “a meeting like this we haven’t had in 45 years,” she said.

“We love India, because we were born there and our parents are there,” added her friend Tal Shulamith, now a resident of Be’er Yaakov in central Israel. “It’s very emotional.”

But the culmination of the community’s raw elation was reserved for the moment Modi and Netanyahu walked on stage to Academy Award-level applause and a solid two-minute standing ovation. The leaders — Modi dressed in blue-and-beige, Netanyahu in a blue tie — clasped hands triumphantly in the air.

“Modi! Modi! Modi!” chanted the observers, some of whom wore “I am a fan of Narendra Modi” t-shirts.

Hailing the strong bilateral ties between the two countries for 25 years, Netanyahu noted that “we always remember that there’s a human bridge between us — you. We admire you, we respect you, we love you.”

Taking the stage after Netanyahu, Modi gave a lengthy speech in Hindi to the crowd of mostly Indian immigrants.

“For the first time in 70 years an Indian PM has got an opportunity to visit Israel,” his office wrote on Twitter in English simultaneously. “This is a matter of joy.”

For Israel’s Indian community, it certainly was.

Not only for Israel’s Indian community. For all of us.

Safe journey home Mr. Modi. May our two countries continue on the path to deep and warm relations for our mutual benefit.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

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5 Responses to Good News Friday Part I: The Israel-India renewed friendship

  1. Reality says:

    what a heartwarming and uplifting post.Thank You.I hope Netanyahu really takes little Moishe Holzberg with him to visit India.At long last,slowly slowly all sorts of countries are becoming friendly with Israel.Maybe they’ll even manage to change things in UNESCO.

    • anneinpt says:

      If India can be persuaded to vote against these resolutions instead of just abstaining – which is in itself progress – then maybe we can swing the votes our way at the UN. But to be honest I think there are too many Muslim states and dictatorships to make much of a dent in the numbers.

  2. Harry says:

    India’s population will soon surpass China’s as the world’s largest. India is also the home of the world’s largest Muslim-minority population of approximately 170 million. The similarities between the two peace-loving countries are many, including the emphasis on education, family (Indian and Jewish mothers really do have a lot in common), the industrious and creative nature of its people, the emphasis on technology to solve problems (social, economic and military), and the external threats. The “lovefest” images we saw this past week are probably very real. Hopefully, the coming economic and cultural ties between the two countries last for generations with India and Israel showing mutual respect in all world forums, particularly in the UN.

    • anneinpt says:

      I definitely got the impression that the warmth between the two men was real. It was quite clear it wasn’t forced. Let’s hope this personal friendship will translate into a real international friendship. The 2 countries and the world can only benefit from it.

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