It is a pleasure for me to add my introduction to this book on the relationship of the State of Israel and the Jewish People with the huge sub-continent of India, with its vast ethnic, religious, political, linguistic and economic diversity. Despite the links and parallels between our two nations that can be traced back through the centuries into far distant history, much of our individual cultures, histories and current lives remain totally unfamiliar to the members of the other nation.
Over the past twelve months, the President of India, H.E. Shri Pranab Mukherjee, made a historic state visit to Jerusalem, while I had the pleasure and the honour of visiting India, together with a delegation of leading figures in Israeli academia, business, industry and defence. These visits and the agreements signed between us regarding the development of collaboration in a wide variety of fields are witness to the rapidly growing cooperation and friendship between the tiny State of Israel and the huge sub-continent of India. As President Mukherjee mentioned during his visit to Jerusalem, India and Israel are both young democratic countries set up by very ancient nations that each represent a great civilization. Although diplomatic relations between our countries were established twenty five years ago, the ties between our two nations can be traced far into the past.
We have found inspiration in the Indian nation, and that inspiration, also, is both ancient and new.
Some two thousand years ago when the Jewish nation was engaged in a losing struggle against the great Roman Empire, a small group of Jewish soldiers were fighting a hopeless battle against the Roman armies on Massada, the last enclave of Jewish resistance in the Judean desert.
When it became clear they could hold out no longer, those Jewish fighters gathered together to discuss whether to surrender and to live as slaves, or to fight, and to die as free men.
The commander of that group of fighters, Elazar ben Ya’ir, made a very moving speech calling on that group of men to choose liberty, and this speech has become a universal symbol of the longing for freedom.
The story of Massada is well known. What is less well known is that during his final speech, as reported by the contemporary historian Josephus, Elazar ben Ya’ir presented his people the role model of the wise men of India – who did not fear death, but cherished liberty even more than life itself.
As a child, I was raised on the heroic story of the siege of Massada, and on the supreme value of liberty. Yet for me, growing up under the British Mandate, it was the liberation of India, which gained its independence in 1947, that paved the path for us to our own independence, just one year later, in 1948. Today, too, we find inspiration in the power, strength, and energy, of that great nation in admiration for their most impressive developments that are enabling millions to escape poverty and take a greater share in the nation’s growing prosperity.
Today, modern India and modern Israel are signing academic, economic and trade agreements that will carry the cooperation between our two countries to a new stage, enhancing and developing the existing cooperation in trade, technology, security and agriculture.
This book covers many areas of the relations between our two countries together with proposals for possible areas of action to improve, develop and expand those relations. These range from political ties, through tourism and ways to enhance and develop relations between organizations of the Jewish and Indian diasporas around the world, including of course, the strategic, academic, and economic ties.
I welcome this contribution to ways to enhance and carry forward the vibrant relations between Israel and India.
Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin
President of the State of Israel