FOREIGN POLICY RESEARCH CENTRE,New

FPRC Journal No. 5

www.fprc.in                            ISBN : 978-81-904361-7-5

                  

2011

Focus : India-Israel Relations

Responses,Articles,Documents

Editor :  Dr.Mahendra Gaur

FOREIGN POLICY RESEARCH CENTRE,New Delhi(India)

 


 

CONTENTS

                                                                                                                                                                                    PREFACE                                     

Interview with Mr.Shashank, Former Foreign Secretary of India  (pp.3-8)                                                                                                                        

Responses  ( pp.9-24)

1. Dr. Itzhak Gerberg,   Ambassador of Israel to Georgia,formerly Consul-General of Israel in Bombay (Mumbai) 

2.Prof. Efraim Inbar,  Director,Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University,Ramat-Gan , Israel

3.Prof. Yaacov  Vertzberger,   Prof. International Relations,The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

4.Dr. Harsh V. Pant,   Department of Defence Studies,King's College London,United Kingdom                                                                                                                                           

5.  Dr. Mohammad Mahmood, Professor of Political Science, (Retd,) Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh

6. Prof. Nathan Katz, Florida International University

Articles  (pp.26-151)

1. Theodore Paul Wright Jr,  Prof.Emeritus, State University of New York at Albany

2.Maina Chawla Singh,Ph.D.,University of Delhi;Scholar-in-Residence,

American University, Washington DC                                                                                                             

3.Dr. Richard L. Benkin, American human rights activist and journalist

4. Karamatullah K. Ghori,  Former Pakistan Ambassador

5. Dr. Ninan Koshy, formerly Director , CCIA  & Visiting Fellow, Human Rights     Program, Harvard Law School, USA,

6. Dr. Fatima Shahnaz, ‘Visiting Professor’ (Political Science) at the Hyderabad Central University, Academic Staff College, and Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi;President of the India Peace Organization

7. Shashank Joshi,Department of Government,Harvard University,Cambridge

8. Mahwish Hafeez,Research Fellow,Institute of Strategic Studies,Islamabad

9. Priya Suresh,  Head,Dept.of  Int.Studies,Stella Maris College,Chennai,India                               

10. Dr.Navras Jaat Aafreedi, Dept. of  International Relations Gautam Buddha University, Greater NOIDA,India

11.Dr. K.M.Sajad Ibrahim, Dept. of Political Science, Kerala University,India        

 

Book Release- THE CHINA SYNDROME :

GRAPPLING WITH AN UNEASY  RELATIONSHIP by Dr. Harsh V. Pant(p.152)

Documents –official & non-official  (pp.153-180)

 

 

 

India-Israel Relations:  The Imperative and the Challenge

                                                          Dr. Richard L. Benkin, USA

                                                                                        


(Dr. Richard Benkin is a human rights activist, author, and speaker.  Over the past five years, he has freed a journalist from imprisonment and torture in Bangladesh, forced Bangladesh's notorious RAB to release an abductee unharmed, halted an anti-Israel conference in Australia, and raised the issue of Bangladesh's ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Washington and other capitals; among other accomplishments.  In 2009, he received a verbal okay for hearings about the Bangladeshi Hindus from members of the United States government; and will be pursuing those hearings in 2011. In 2005, the United States Congress honored Dr. Benkin for his human rights work.

In 2009, Benkin helped found Forcefield, a human rights NGO, described as "non-agenda driven," in that it is informed by no particular ideology or anti-Israel or other bias in contrast with other human rights organizations.  Its first human rights case is that of Bangladesh’s Hindus.  Richard Benkin received his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania and has since held a number of faculty and business positions in the United States.

He is currently writing a book about the destruction of Bangladesh’s Hindus, entitled A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing. For detailed Bio.go to : http://interfaithstrength.com/RichardBio.htm)

I

t seems inconceivable that India and Israel lacked any sort of relationship for most of their relatively brief histories or that they only established full diplomatic ties the same year Israel and China did (1992).  Yet by 2003, Yuval Steinitz, then head of the Israeli Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, said that the strategic alliance with India had become so important that it was “second only to [Israel’s] relations with the United States.” [1]  Today, the Israel-India relationship stands as one of the most important bi-lateral ties of the 21st century and arguably the most important in the fight against radical Islam.[2]  From their births at the end of World War II until the last decade of the 20th century, a number of factors prevented the two nations from joining hands; but three later developments forced that to change.

The first was the fall of the Soviet Union.  The Cold War and US-USSR relations dominated the international landscape, and nations were expected to hew the line favored by one or the other.  On the Middle East, the Americans and their allies were Israel’s major supporters; the Soviets and theirs its major antagonists.[3]  Although India was a leader of the so-called “non-aligned movement,” the movement’s members were in fact allies of the USSR; and that meant an unyielding pro-Arab position.[4]  The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 “changed international realities and caused most nations to take a new look at their strategic interests.”  India’s re-assessment forced a more dramatic change than did others.[5]

The second factor was the rise of radical Islam, and it left India and Israel uniquely bound to one another.  Both are democratic republics committed to religious freedom and opposed to becoming theocracies.  Yet, each is associated strongly with a particular faith.  For Israel, that faith is Judaism; for India, Hinduism.  Hindus and Jews share an historical experience of coercive attempts by Muslims to dominate their ancestral lands and force Islam on their members.  India and Israel have similar-sized Muslim minorities—between one sixth and one fifth of the citizenry—that are normally restive, often violent.[6]  Those violent elements, moreover, are able to find shelter within these two Muslim communities.   Both countries also face terrorist attacks by home grown and foreign Islamists, and both have fought defensive wars against countries claiming to carry the flag of Islam.  Islamists might call the United States the “great Satan,” but there likely are no two countries in the world that they are intent on destroying and turning into Muslim theocracies more than Israel and India.

The third factor follows from the second:  parochial disputes between the two countries and those who claim to represent Islam.  I have called Kashmir “India’s West Bank,” because many would sacrifice both territories on the altar of realpolitik in land-for-peace formulae that few believe will bring genuine peace.  As P. V. Indiresan noted:

Ostensibly, property disputes, in Palestine, Kashmir and elsewhere are the justification for Islamic terrorism. Will peace be established if Palestinians are given the territory they want and Kashmir is handed over to Pakistan? It is more than likely that such concessions will only whet the appetite of Islamic fundamentalists.[7]

Yet, the pressure to do both is growing.  Just as Judea and Samaria[8] once had large Jewish populations, Kashmir was once home to large numbers of Hindus and Sikhs.  Over time, those peoples were violently uprooted, allowing advocates for territories cleansed of all three to claim that their position only reflects the will of the people (now) living there; therefore, they claim, any nation calling itself democratic must support it.

The similarities do not end there.  The West Bank abuts Israel, is a terror hub, and is otherwise surrounded by a Muslim ummah that has shown no willingness to stop its elements with maximalist designs; the same for India-abutting Kashmir.  Moreover, both sets of terrorists have a penchant for hiding among local Muslim populations then, capitalizing on the collateral damage it insures, find allies to demand that the Indian army in Kashmir and the IDF in the West Bank be handcuffed in protecting their people from these deadly threats.[9]  As a result, political authorities in both countries have at times decided to exercise restraint even in the face of murderous attacks.

In this changed geo-political landscape the Israel-India relationship has blossomed in hitherto unseen ways; most obviously in the military and security fields, with special attention to the Islamist threat.  For almost a decade, Israel was India’s second largest defense supplier until 2009 when it became the largest.  This is more significant than at first blanch.  Russia (nee the Soviet Union) was previously India’s main supplier of military hardware and maintained that position even after it collapsed as an international superpower.  The Indian military was powered by Russian weapons and had hosted Russian military advisors and instructors for decades.  Its decline as a reliable supplier provided the major impetus for India to seek a new trading partner.

 

According to an unnamed Indian official, the “turning point… was the Al Qaida-aligned attack on Mumbai in November 2008.”  Despite undisputed evidence pointing to Pakistan as the source, India was unable to retaliate for the 150 people killed, which “highlighted India's weakness in air and naval surveillance.”  Turning to Israel to rectify the situation, India bought state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries’ EL/M-2083 radar system valued at $600 million.  It would “be deployed along the Pakistani border.”[10]  The Mumbai attack also made it clear that contemporary India has far more in common with Israel than with Russia.[11]  Israel and India have now moved beyond the earlier stage of one-way military trade to joint projects in developing both offensive and defensive weapons.

Beyond the military, many cultural points of similarity have emerged since the lid was taken off the India-Israel relationship.  India had replaced Turkey as the major Israeli tourist destination, even before the latter’s open move into the Islamist camp.  “That Israelis feel an instinctive affinity for India should perhaps not be surprising,” noted Martin Sherman, who added that India’s “history is virtually devoid of anti-Semitism.”[12]  That cannot be overestimated for Jews.  It seems that almost everywhere we travel, we find ourselves walking on territory that has been watered by the blood of our people; but not in India.  I observed this for myself in Rishikesh, the holy Indian city in the Himalayan foothills.  There large numbers of young Israelis have come to drink in the spirituality offered there and in the nearby city of Haridwar.

 

All is not well, however, partly due to complex international relations and partly due to domestic Indian politics.  For instance, in 2009, India voted “yea” on a United Nations resolution that endorsed the now-discredited Goldstone Report, which could result in indictments of Israeli leaders before the International Criminal Court.[13]  The vote reflected Indian political reality; viz., that politicians will be ever mindful of how their actions might alienate the country’s significant Muslim vote.  Thus, Israel said it was “disappointed” by the Indian action, but left it at that.  More recently, Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil publicly supported Syria’s claims in its dispute with Israel over the Golan Heights.  While it was highly inappropriate for Patil to inject herself into the bi-lateral dispute, it probably represented little more than her toadying approach to foreign relations rather than anything of substance.  It also reflects India’s traditional alliances and its officials’ fear of jeopardizing its extensive trade and foreign receipts from the Gulf States.[14]  Thus, Israel’s response was muted. 

 

Like its counterparts elsewhere, India’s mainstream has an almost knee-jerk response to any news item on the Middle East, condemning Israel and uncritically accepting the Arab position—even if that position is ultimately contrary to Indian interests.  An editorial in The Hindu about Israel’s 2009 war against terrorists in Gaza was typical.  It claimed Israel “massacred 40 Palestinians” (factually incorrect and inflammatory by intent) and accused Israel of a “potential war crime” (never proven and a well-worn anti-Israel talking point).  In the midst of its screed, The Hindu never once mentioned the unprovoked and indiscriminate Arab attacks on Israeli civilians that prompted Israel’s defensive action; nor did it connect those attacks to similar unprovoked attacks on Indian citizens to which the Indian government (like Israel) sometimes responds.[15]  The Economic Times was guilty of the same hyperbole when it screeched that Israel’s 2010 attack on the terrorist-inspired and funded Gaza flotilla was “nothing short of an act of piracy, of state terrorism.”  It also termed it “shameful” and “criminal” without ever mentioning the flotilla’s deliberate and offensive aims or its proven terror links.[16]

 

The prevailing anti-Israel sentiment on Indian campuses frequently manifests itself in anti-Israel attacks when I speak on campuses.  Those who are not trying to disrupt my address are trying to hijack its agenda to an anti-Israel one.  Elsewhere, Indian university students consistently report that many professors push the standard anti-Israel narrative as if it was objective truth; and while most campuses offer Arab or Islamic studies, they virulently reject any classes on Judaism, Jewish history, or Israel from other than an ideological and anti-Israel perspective.[17]

 

For these elites, their international counterparts rather than their fellow Indians comprise their reference group.  Their enforced political correctness serves overarching philosophies rather than the interests of their Indian nation.  Similarly, older line politicians see Europe as their reference group.  Many cling to an outdated Nehru-era philosophy that views Israel as an arm of the “imperialist west,” and ignores today’s imperialist power:  radical Islam.[18]

 

There are, however, signs of a growing disconnect between the elites’ anachronistic policies and a growing pro-Israel sentiment among the people.  Amitabh Tripathi, founder of the South Asia Forum, has been working for years to help build a strong India-Israel relationship.  He contends that India’s future is with Israel’s in a principles fight against a singular terrorist threat; and he believes that this realization is taking hold among the generation of Indians several decades removed from the old assumptions that drove Indian policy during the Cold War years.  As one journalist for a major Indian news outlet told me, "there is something of a generation gap between the [established and generally older] editors and publishers" and today’s younger professionals. [19]  The disconnect he and others told me, exists in part because of the fast pace at which realities and relationships have changed.

 

In 2008, I met with numerous Indian journalists who wanted to speak out against the prevailing position that is enforced in their newsrooms.  They offered me their candid opinions about the “media's leftist bias, the center-left government, and the severity of the Islamist threat facing their country.”[20]  They worked for major newspapers and broadcast channels; English and Hindi-language outlets; purely Indian companies, and some based internationally.  Many of them had shown no fear of dangerous situations if that is what it took to get a story.  Yet, to a man they said they "would surely be sacked" if their editors or colleagues heard those candid opinions.  Thus, we met in out of the way hotels, coffee shops, and other inconspicuous places, and they spoke on conditions of anonymity.  They said that for India’s very survival, it must enter into “a strong alliance with Israel and the United States” against the Islamist and communist terrorists” victimizing its citizens regularly.  They expressed frustration at the slow progress they see in that regard and attribute it to “vote bank politics.”

 

The key to maintaining that generational momentum is continued effort to counteract the restricted information and perspectives that would be available to large constituencies otherwise; and Tripathi has engaged in that sort of activism on at least two fronts.  He has expanded that effort to reach non-English speakers by starting Lokmanch, a Hindi-language web site that offers original and translated pieces on Israel, the struggle to defeat Islamist terror and extremism, US policy and President Barack Obama, and the need for a strong Israel-India relationship.  “The web site is only the first step,” he said.  “Small, local papers publish in huge numbers and they are not part of the mainstream media.  They are just as frustrated with things as we are.”  That has taken him across India to several villages and smaller localities where he has been able to make that wider range of information accessible to the new publics.  Others are engaged in similar efforts to broaden the information sources available to Indians.

Similarly, numerous pro-Israel groups have helped galvanized students.  Delhi University’s 2010 Student Union elections reflected the effort with students of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP, student wing of the right-leaning Bharatiya Janata Party) winnning three of four posts, including the presidency.[21]  Over the past several years, I have spoken to students and faculty at numerous Indian universities and found a consistent hunger on the part of students for information about Israel.   Students pepper me with questions about Israeli technology and life in general, but the most frequent question is:  “How has Israel defeated the terrorists arrayed against it, and how can India learn from their example.”[22]  In one 2008 class of more than two dozen journalism students, only one openly supported the Arab cause.  After a civil exchange of ideas and information, the student maintained his stance but expressed a desire for more information from varied sources:  for principled debate over charges and counter-charges.  Here, too, the key is organized efforts to expand the range of information available to students.

 No such effort would be successful, however, unless its substance was compelling.  Thus, ultimately strengthened relations with Israel depend on the actions of Israelis themselves.  In addition to the security assistance, military cooperation, and cultural ties noted above.  Israel has also provided grass roots development assistance.  For instance, since 2001, its Rural Development Organization, with the goal of empowering India’s rural poor, has produced schools, income generating projects, and environmental efforts, and trained locals to pursue the program without Israeli involvement.  It also sent emergency teams to help Indian victims of a major earthquake that year and provided aid to victims of other disasters natural and man-made.  Israel continues to maintain programs to improve medical care and agricultural technologies in rural India.

Over the years, I have shared public podiums and other venues with Israeli officials in India; and have been struck by their painstaking efforts to respect the reality of their hosts’ political and other predicaments.  In a world where most nations and entities either criticize India for the often ambiguous actions that result from domestic and international conflicts or attempt to take advantage of them; it might just be the genuine respect by Israelis that ultimately convinces Indian officialdom that their best interests lay in a strong India-Israel alliance.

 

************

 

 



[1] Martin Sherman, “India and Israel: Strategic Bedfellows,” Israpundit, November 9, 2010.

[2] Unless otherwise specified, “India” and “Israel” refer to the two modern nation-states established in 1947 and 1948 respectively.  Ancient Israel and India had relations extending back at least 2500 years.

[3] The USSR voted in favor of the Jewish State’s creation, and Communist Czechoslovakia was Israel’s primary arms source in its 1948 War of Independence.   Otherwise, however, the communist bloc took a hard anti-Israel stance, especially after the 1967 Six Day War.

[4] Richard L. Benkin, “An India-Israel-United States Alliance: The Last Great Hope for Humanity.”  Arvind Ghosh Memorial Lecture, Chicago, November 1, 2008.  Also see Richard L. Benkin, “Nehru, Obama, and U.S. Support for Pakistan,” UPI Asia, May 11, 2009.

[5] Op. cit., India-Israel-United States Alliance.

[6]  The population figures for Israel exclude the disputed territories.  It includes pre-1967 Israel plus all of Jerusalem, which was restored as Israel’s capital in 1967.  Jerusalem was divided for 19 years between 1948 and 1967 when Jordanian troops occupied the eastern part of the city.  In comparison, Germany’s re-united capital, Berlin, was divided for 45 years between 1945 and 1990, but no one suggested that the division was somehow natural or right.

[7] P. V. Indiresan, Dealing with Terror,” The Hindu, September 15, 2001 (four days after 9/11).

[8] Judea and Samaria are the historical names for the territory today called “the West Bank.”  The West Bank is a new name for these ancient lands.  Jordan gave it that name to designate it as a Jordanian province after its troops captured it in 1948.

[9] Richard L. Benkin, “Op Ed Calling India Pariah State odd Choice for Israeli Publication,” South Asia Forum, October 14, 2010.

[10] “End of an era: Israel replaces Russia as India's top military supplier,” World Tribune, March 25, 2009.  It should be noted that World Tribune is an independent outlet of seasoned professionals with a record of solid reporting on international events.

[11] While victimized by Islamist terrorists on the Chechnya issue, Russia has not been besieged as continuously as India and Israel; nor has it taken a firm stand against radical Islam, while Israel is arguably the leader in that fight.

[12] Martin Sherman, “Strategic Bedfellows,” Reform Judaism, Winter 2010/5771, p.46.

[13] The so-called Goldstone Report was the report on a UN investigation of the 2009 Gaza War.  Most objective analysts (including the US Congress) and even some of its participants have noted the report’s anti-Israel bias.

[14] See Samir Pradhan, “India’s Economic and Political Presence in the Gulf: A Gulf Perspective, in Gulf Research Center, India’s Growing Role in the Gulf Implications for the Region and the United States, 2009; pp. 15-39.  Also, “Patil lauds role of Indian expatriates in development of India, UAE,” The Indian News, November 22, 2010.

[15] “Facing up to Gaza Truths, The Hindu, February 7, 2010.

[16] “Israel’s act of piracy,” The Economic Times, June 2, 2010.

[17] These comments came from personal experiences with students and faculty at several Indian campuses in the North and Northeast.

[18] Subhash Kapila, “India’s Payback Time to Israel, South Asia Analysis Group, Paper No. 442, April 10, 2002.

[19] Richard L. Benkin, “Indian Conservatives Struggle to Build Alternative Media,” American Thinker, May 31, 2008. 

 

[20] Their comments and those which follow were made in personal conversations during 2008.

[21] “ABVP Wins Delhi University Elections 2010,” http://www.highereducationindia.com, September 4, 2010.

[22] The cited incidents occurred from 2008 through 2010 at several universities in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.