Israel’s new best friend

India’s Modi is likely to further develop ties with Israel

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Ties between Israel and India are likely to strengthen following the recent landslide electoral victory of the Indian People’s Party (BJP). The Hindu nationalists obtained an absolute majority in parliament and saw their poster boy, 64 year old Narendra Modi, being sworn in as the country’s 15th Prime Minister.

His Israeli counterpart Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on May 16 was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Modi, whom the New York based International Business Times defined as “Israel’s best friend in South Asia.”

This is a remarkable turn of events, given the fact that relations between India and Israel have long been a troublesome affair. Much to the chagrin of the early Zionists, India’s founding father Mahatma Gandhi never supported the creation of a Jewish state.

“The cry for a national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me,” he wrote in 1938. “The sanction for it is sought in the Bible, but the Palestine of Biblical conception is not a geographical tract… It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.”

Furthermore, Gandhi strongly believed in secularism, which naturally did not sit well with the conception of Israel as a “Jewish” homeland. Ironically, Gandhi was killed for his secular views by a Hindu nationalist six months after the foundation of India on August 15, 1947.

For decades, however, his views on Israel would continue to dominate Delhi’s foreign policy. India only recognized Israel in 1992 and ever since, hot on the heels of the BJP’s gradual rise to power, relations have flourished.

The love affair between Zionists and Hindu nationalists should not come as a surprise. First of all, they share a similar ideology. Based on a glorifying and rather selective reading of India’s past, the “Hindutva” movement, with the BJP as its political arm, sees the country first and foremost as the national home of the Hindus.

Ideally, the BJP would like to change “India” to “Hindustan,” mirroring the name of its next door neighbor and archenemy Pakistan. Emphasizing India’s Hindu-ness, the BJP sees the country’s minorities, especially its some 140 million Muslims, as “foreign elements” and second-rate citizens, while Modi and his cohorts have often praised Israel as a bulwark in the global war against Islamic terrorism.

“The entire world acknowledges that Israel has effectively and ruthlessly countered terror in the Middle East,” read a BJP statement issued during Ariel Sharon’s visit to India in 2003. “Since India and Israel are both fighting a war against terrorism, therefore, we should learn a lesson or two from them.”

Since the establishment of diplomatic ties, bilateral trade between India and Israel has grown significantly from some $200 million in 1992 (mainly diamonds) to nearly $4.4 billion in 2013, when India became Israel’s 10th largest trading partner. Worth some $2.5 billion, diamonds and precious stones are still the bulk of today’s trade. Other Israeli exports include chemicals, minerals and, last but not least, arms.

Israel is one of the world’s biggest arms exporters, while India is one its biggest importers. According to the Israeli Defense Ministry, the country’s defense exports in 2012 amounted to $7 billion, some $1 to 1.5 billion of which headed to India. And there is much, much more to come, for the BJP aims to spend billions on a complete overhaul and modernization of the Indian armed forces, transforming India from an arms importer into an arms manufacturer.

Currently, foreign companies that invest 26 percent or more in Indian defense projects must commit to the establishment of joint manufacturing ventures in India. Yet, this has often proved an obstacle for foreign investors. India now intends to liberalize the market by, for example, raising the threshold from 26 to 49 percent.

When it comes to opening up markets, Modi is no doubt the man for the job. The son of a humble tea seller is a stern believer in capitalism. Under his 14-year rule as Chief Minister, the State of Gujarat embraced an all-out neoliberal agenda. With tax breaks and other incentives, large corporations were persuaded to establish themselves in India’s most western state.

The moral of this story? Modi is good for Hindus and good for big business, and as such could be the best news Israel has had for quite some time.

Peter Speetjens

Peter Speetjens is a Dutch journalist & analyst based in Beirut since 1996.

9 Comments

  1. INDRASIS said:

    though I liked reading the article……but although a Hindu nationalist this is gross exaggeration that he considers other minorities as second class citizens………I have seen a lot of Christians and Buddhists in Gujarat who think of him highly and adore him….he quite promotes convent schools due to their education standards…..considering the muslims they always think someone is oppressing them till they don’t get their sharia………and for readers not from India…you all must know that muslims come under OBC category here which enjoys 27% reservation in educational institutions and government jobs…..so enough oppurtunuties are provided to muslims……its their choice if they want to develop or fall to hatred

    • Sam said:

      27% to OBCs!!! OMG I am an Indian since 30 years I have been seeing things in India never know of thing like OBCs are only MUslims!!! Thanks for enlighting me Mr what ever u r. Can you please provide me any authentic proof of showing 27% of reservation towards Muslims in Gujarat. Then I will apologise and accept your each and every word. If not, don’t try make fool of Non Indians. Don’t spread lie.
      After Gujarat Riots what has Modi done to the Muslims of Gujarat. Still starved for basic things, no security, poor education and forget about jobs in Govt sector.

  2. Arin said:

    Largely correct, except for the author’s stress on “Hindu”. Modi or BJP never said they are pro-Hindu. They instead support – true-secularism. What is Hindutva? The meaning of the word is NOT “Hinduness” – the meaning is “equal respect for all religions, discrimination to none”. Please understand the meaning of “Hindutva” properly without jumping to conclusion due to the present of the letters H-I-N-D-U in the word. Modi and BJP is simply against the Congree version of “secularism” which led to the PM Manmohan Singh to declare – the Muslims has the first right on the Nation’s resources…..

  3. H Soni said:

    I agree with the previous comment.
    The article is good one, but is so generalized and (partially) accussing BJP (as if) based on several neo-liberal articles.
    Sure, he mentions the relationship between India and Israel is blooming; but so conveniently he forgets to mention that it was established by NOT BJP but Congress!
    Kargil, if it wasn’t state sponsered attack on India, it was a terrorist attack. And who helped India in that time of crisis? US, UK, France, Germany? None, but Israel. Now, you tell me, the USA threatens India for buying oil (lifeline of India) from Iran, but didn’t help fight terrorism. Wouldn’t the citizens of India be more inclined to Israel?
    And simply, the change in India’s stand towards Israel (through ’47 till now) should be seen in broad sense – not just religiouly tinted one. Compare it with how Pakistan’s view has changed about Israel over the time. Then only you will see that it is more pragmatic change than a change due to religious / political change in India.
    By ignoring all these issue and the author calling himself journalist (as well he may be), he looses my respect in the terms of unbiased reporting. Sure, this is opinion and everyone is entitled to one, but the people, with such more responsibility of such a noble profession (journalism) need to be careful what they present to the world and how it affects it – even if its just their personal opinion.

  4. Sakthivel said:

    You are completely wrong about modi,Actually many Muslims in India support modi…

  5. Jaydip Ghosh said:

    The story, and as it starts its first line, is frequently dependent on a word “like”… I don’t think, considering the newly elected government taking power after such a huge landslide victory, India is going or can afford to have such a weak foreign policy at this stage… Please don’t try to woo people on your own assumptions…

  6. Hakeem said:

    I would like to bring to your kind notice of all commentators that this article is not at all Bias and to very core is truth. One of the commentator says that BJP is not a Hindutva party as it never says so… But dear friend have you ever see or heard the manifestos of RSS, Shiv Sena which are wings of BJP? Please go through that, you would change your mind set. Merely 100 days have passed, representatives of Wings of BJP started calling for Hindu state, started hate speeches, riots, what not.
    If BJP was not a communal party why all people who has involved in Riots of Gujarat got bail? And don’t forget about Fake Encounter Specialists also got their jobs back forget about imprisonment.
    If Modi was liberal let him take stand on fake encounters and give CBI freedom to prosecute who are accused, don’t forget Amit Shah was the one pulling the strings, before CBI gets it’s hands on Amit Shah, BJP govt gave immunity to him. This is the only tip of ice burg… Deep down Modi Govt has it’s own agenda of communalising and making India Hindustan, no doubt about it.

  7. Vik said:

    Decent article. I agree that India and Israel’s economic ties should be increased dramatically over the next decade. But there is a natural cultural and social alliance that has naturally existed between Indians and Jews. It is rather evident in the US where Indian-Americans and Jewish-Americans have deep friendships that last a lifetime. They think alike, act alike and even behave alike. They have similar political and social beliefs as well. It’s great to see that the two countries are increasing economic trade, but I would like to see a cultural and social trade take place as well. Or I’ll just do it myself in the future. ;)

  8. Aamaty said:

    Mr Peter,
    Your article might work well with others who don’t know about Hindu or Hinduism but scores a negative 50 with those who have a bit of understanding. I can’t correct you here because you are factually wrong about many things which is understandable because you are neither an expert on India nor have first hand knowledge of anything.

    ‘Ignorance is bliss’ ..keep partying.

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