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India, Israel and the Jewish People

The rise of the Indian community in the United Kingdom
Indian migration to the United Kingdom, primarily a by-product of the British Raj, began in in the 19th century, long before Indian migration to the United States. According to the 2011 UK Census, in England and Wales alone, Indians number approximately 1.4 million – 2.5 percent of the total population (others maintain that the true figure exceeds 1.8 million). They constitute the single largest ethnic minority group, followed by the Pakistanis. The number of Jews is less than 300,000.61

The Indian community has become one of the most educated and highest earning ethnic groups in the UK. British Indians occupy important positions in the media and entertainment industries, in business and in cutting-edge science and technology sectors.

In contrast with Indian Americans, British Indians have a long tradition of involvement in public service and political life. As early as 1892, a Parsi Indian, one of the key initiators of the Indian National Congress, was elected to the House of Commons. Since the late 1980s, the number of British Indian Members of Parliament has been growing. Eight were elected in 2010, compared to 24 Jews, which shows that the Indians still have a way to go. British Indians have also been actively participating at the local level of government, notably as elected mayors and council members.

Similar to Indian Americans and Jews who mainly support the Democrats, British Indians have traditionally supported the Labour Party over the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats – although some suggest that this may be changing. All three national political parties, have established “Friends of India” groups to promote ties with the British Indian community and win their votes. The Liberal Democrats have even chosen a British Indian as their chairman in the House of Lords.

Links between the Indian and Jewish communities in the United Kingdom
In 1996, leading members of the British Hindu and Jewish communities founded the Indian-Jewish Association, thereby formalizing a friendly relationship that had already been flourishing for two decades. The association not only includes Jews and Hindus, but also Indian Sikhs and Muslims. Its main mission is to advance links and stronger bonds between the Indian and Jewish communities in the United Kingdom, and it has done so through the organization of a wide range of activities, from seminars and lectures to receptions and film screenings.

Beyond educational and cultural activities, the association has also promoted a number of programs on domestic issues of common concern to the two communities. For instance, a group brings Indian and Jewish students together to discuss shared challenges of racial and religious discrimination and harassment on university campuses. Indian and Jewish professionals also meet regularly to discuss common legal and human rights concerns, education and welfare issues, and security matters. However, these links are still weaker and less significant than U.S. Indo-Jewish cooperation. There is little or no cooperation between formal Jewish and Indian advocacy groups seeking to gain influence in the British Parliament or affect government policies, domestic or foreign, particularly those pertaining to Israel and the Middle East. One reason for this is a more passive or more complacent political attitude of British Jews in comparison to their American counterparts, partly born of a suspicion that British Jewry is losing political clout.

The close links forged between U.S. Jewish and Indian lobbies and advocacy groups have no parallel elsewhere. The United States may be a unique case, as the separation of powers in its system of government makes the legislature infinitely more responsive to grassroots lobbying and advocacy than in traditional parliamentary systems. Nevertheless, developing similar links and friendly bonds between the Indian and Jewish communities in countries such as Canada, Australia, South Africa, and France, where there are substantial Jewish and Indian communities, should be strongly encouraged and pursued. This would require, among other things, an Israeli initiative, and at least some cooperation between Israel’s Foreign and Diaspora Ministries.

The links between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora: examples India might follow


The quantitative importance of the rapidly growing Indian diaspora and the substantial impact of diaspora remittances on the Indian economy was discussed earlier. Qualitative issues are no less important. For a country like India, one of the main challenges the formation of a diaspora raises for the homeland is the brain drain, the cost of losing skilled and highly skilled professionals. On the other hand, the benefits a diaspora brings to the homeland, in this case India, include not only remittances, but also the promotion of trade, investment, and other ties between the country of residence and India. These allow for the exchange of knowledge and expertise. Furthermore, such ties can be a major source of political support worldwide. The success in leveraging the opportunities offered by overseas Indian communities is greatly dependent on the latter’s willingness and ability (in particular, of second- and third-generation migrants) to preserve a distinct Indian identity and maintain a strong attachment to India. This, in turn, requires policies to establish partnerships between India and its global diaspora. This is a new challenge for India, which has no historical experience on which it might base such policies. Since 2000, India has begun to recognize the importance of relations with its diaspora. Therefore, in 2004, the Indian government established a ministry dedicated to the issues and interests of the community of people of Indian origin worldwide – the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.

By 2000, India had become convinced that it could learn from the Israel-Diaspora partnership. The executive summary of a 2001 report produced by the Indian government’s High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora highlighted that “the contribution of the Diaspora to Israel in the economic, political and cultural spheres contained important lessons for India. The activities of Jewish lobbies outside Israel, particularly in the U.S. Congress, their extensive fund-raising abilities, large-scale funding for the scientific and technological development of Israel, their global networks which link Jewish associations and organizations worldwide as well as with the State of Israel, could serve as an example.”62 The report devoted nearly ten pages to the Jewish Diaspora, including a description of the specific “schemes” and “incentives” put into place by Israel “for fostering close links” with the Diaspora, a detailed account of the organizational structures dealing with Diaspora affairs, and the “relevance of Israeli experience in the Indian context.”63 Curiously, Israel and the Jewish people have barely noticed that their historical experience has provided them influence or soft power with India, and that this soft power could be used to strengthen links between India, Israel, and the Jewish people.

While the Israel-Diaspora relationship is unique in the sense that Diaspora communities comprise Jews who for the most part have no direct experience of having lived in Israel, rather than Israeli migrants, it provides useful lessons for other homeland-diaspora cooperative projects. Many Jews, even those who have never been to Israel, have a feeling of attachment to the Jewish state, which translates into political, economic, philanthropic, and academic support for Israel. This support is channeled through a complex infrastructure with efficient mechanisms that involve governmental, non-governmental, and private actors both in Israel and abroad.

The Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI), a Jerusalem-based organization founded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the JDC, commonly known as the Joint), provides advice and expertise to governments as well as non-governmental and international organizations on how to develop and strengthen homeland-diaspora ties and leverage the opportunities for a strong partnership. The Israel-Diaspora relationship and its existing organizational structure and mechanisms are used as a case study. CIMI has already undertaken several projects for Eastern European and South American countries, including the Moldova and Serbia Homeland-Diaspora Projects and the Migration and Diaspora for Development initiative in El Salvador. These programs could serve as a basis for similar programs conducted in partnership with the Indian government and Indian organizations. There are three key areas in particular where India can draw upon the extensive experience of the Israel-Diaspora partnership.

How to mobilize political support from Indian diaspora communities worldwide on issues of vital concern to India
The 2001 report of the Committee on the Indian Diaspora noted: “Based on its economic strength and political influence, the Jewish Diaspora had a positive impact in promoting the concerns of Israel and of Jewish communities worldwide in fostering close and friendly bilateral relations between the host countries and Israel” and suggested that the Indian Diaspora “take its cue from the Jewish example.”64

In fact, as already described, in the United States, Jewish and pro-Israeli advocacy groups and lobbies have served as organizational and developmental models and have provided strong support for the formation of Indian organizations and lobbies. There is potential for similar partnerships between the Jewish and Indian diaspora communities in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, or Australia, as well as for dialogue and cooperation on this subject between Indian and Israeli authorities.

How to increase diaspora communities’ philanthropic contributions to India
The 2001 report on the Indian diaspora stressed: “The Jewish Diaspora’s special role in the economic development of Israel is worthy of adaptation and emulation in the Indian context,” expressly mentioning the relevance of the funds and technical expertise channeled from overseas Jewish communities to Israeli science and technology research institutions and projects, as well as to Israel Bonds. Diaspora Jews, and to a lesser degree Israeli expats, raise millions of dollars each year for Israel, much of it through annual fundraising campaigns. These funds help to support universities, research institutes, forests, museums, hospitals, and more.

How to strengthen the diaspora’s and, in particular, young diaspora Indians’ attachment to India
The 2001 report on the Indian diaspora took special note of the Taglit-Birthright Israel program. This program, initiated in 1994 by two prominent Jewish philanthropists in cooperation with the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency, and several other Jewish organizations, has already brought to Israel hundreds of thousands of young Jews from the Diaspora. The program aims at strengthening the young participants’ Jewish identity, sense of belonging to the Jewish people, and feeling of attachment to the Jewish state. Following the model of the Taglit program, the Indian Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs established in 2002 an “Internship Programme for Diaspora Youth,” which has since been named the “Know India Programme.” It is a three-week trip designed to expose young diaspora Indians to India’s society, culture, and economy to promote closer bonds between India and its diaspora. The program includes visits to historical sites and Indian villages, interactions with senior government officials, journalists and NGOs, as well as a series of cultural activities. By 2013, over 600 young diaspora Indians had participated.

There are several other programs and mechanisms set up by the Israeli government to strengthen links with and between young Jews worldwide. Many of them could be emulated by India.

Encouraging an Indian-Israeli-Jewish dialogue on how to maintain identity
The Indo-Israeli-Jewish interaction on diaspora affairs should not remain a one-way dialogue. The Indian and Jewish diasporas worldwide face a number of common challenges. A central concern of the two communities and their countries of historical origin is the loss of identity, growing intermarriage, and complete assimilation into the host society. According to Pew Research Center data, just three-in-ten Indian Americans (29 percent) see as important that future generation of Indians living in the United States will speak Hindi or another Indian language. And although the intermarriage rate of Indian Americans is just 14 percent, much lower than that of the Jews and other ethnic groups in the United States, including the Chinese and Filipinos, there is some Indian concern that the rate will grow in the coming years.

Another matter of reflection common to the two communities is the question of whether overseas diaspora communities should enjoy citizenship and benefit from political rights in their homeland. Jews from any country, whether they have or have not lived in Israel, can acquire Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. However, the right of absentee voting does not exist under Israeli law and, therefore, an Israeli citizen can only vote if he or she is physically present in Israel. There have been recent calls to soften this legislation, opening the possibility for first-generation migrant Israelis to continue voting in legislative elections in the first four years after leaving Israel, which could contribute to “strengthening and preserving their attachment to Israel.”65 As for Indians, they do not even enjoy the right of dual citizenship. Once they acquire the citizenship of another country, Indians automatically lose their Indian citizenship and voting rights. The long-standing demand of the Indian diaspora to change this has to date been rejected. Still, the Indian government has tempered the prohibition of dual citizenship by issuing Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards, available since 2005. OCI cards confer to Indian nationals unlimited lifetime entry into India and a host of economic privileges, such as the right to own property and hold investments there.

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