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India, Israel and the Jewish People

1. The political and diplomatic value of India’s new, friendly attitude toward Israel cannot be overstated, particularly as Israel and Zionism are under attack in Europe and on university campuses in many countries. Unsurprisingly, the international media have taken notice of India’s policy change. It behooves Israeli and also Jewish policy makers, who have been an important factor in improving relations with India, to reflect not only on what India can do for Israel, but also on what Israel and the Jewish people can do for India – politically and diplomatically.

As the Indo-Israeli relationship, as well as the political and diplomatic interests of both countries are evolving, it may currently not be useful to make specific policy proposals. Israel should look out for opportunities to offer political and diplomatic support for Indian interests, be it in international fora (for example by maintaining Israel’s support for India’s quest for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council), or through Israel’s relations with third countries, as long as such support is consistent with Israel’s own interests. India’s security challenges and its position in international organizations, amongst others, might offer such opportunities.

2. India is a very large, diverse republic — politically, ethnically, and religiously. Israel tends to target top federal decision-makers and does not always pay sufficient attention to other actors.

  • Focus Israel’s efforts to strengthen links with India not only on the Central Government in Delhi, but also on the chief ministers of India’s state governments, several of whom are friendly to Israel.
  • In addition, improve links with all major political parties, including at the local level.
  • Strengthen contact with the Lokh Sabah, the lower house of the Indian parliament and try to involve it in the growing relationship between India and Israel.

3. Individual Jews since 1900, and Jewish Diaspora organizations since India’s independence in 1947, have played a crucial role in building bridges between India, the Jewish people, and Israel. These individuals included Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore’s Jewish friends. The organizations have been mainly those of American Jewry, which spent more than 40 years prodding India to establish relations with Israel. It would be a mistake to assume that the Jewish Diaspora no longer has a policy role because India’s government is now friendlier to Israel. India’s strong internal and external links with the Islamic world could act as a brake on further Indo-Israeli rapprochement. Let the wider Jewish world put its weight into the balance to support India’s friendship with Israel. In addition, the rising socio-economic status and political influence of Indian Diaspora communities (estimated worldwide to comprise 30 million people) offers the Jewish Diaspora new opportunities for cooperation and outreach.

  • Encourage Jewish Diaspora organizations currently engaged with Indian communities in their respective countries to continue and expand their outreach efforts. Relations and cooperation between the two communities are excellent in the United States and should be a model for Jewish communities in Australia, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom and others.
  • In all countries with sizable Jewish and Indian Diasporas identify common interests between the two communities. Foster political, social and other links between the two Diasporas, which could also create positive response in India.
  • Provide Jewish institutional advice and support for the establishment of policy and social research institutes to serve Indian Diaspora communities.
  • Mobilize Diaspora sponsorship to supplement Israel’s woefully inadequate budget for cultural outreach to India and for Tikkun Olam projects (see Recommendations 13 and 18).
  • Reach out to India’s Muslims through Jewish Diaspora communities. Sometimes world Jewry can do what Israel alone cannot do (see Recommendation 7).

4. Some of the delays and obstacles in Indo-Israeli relations are due to Israel’s inadequately coordinated bureaucracy.

  • Following a government resolution emphasizing India’s importance to Israel, set up an inter- ministerial steering committee to coordinate Israeli policies vis-à-vis India.
  • Take a comprehensive strategic view of Israel’s relations with Asia. In particular, a steering committee should evaluate Israel’s relations with China and India in view of the complex dynamics and possible tension between the two Asian giants. It should also reflect on the implications of Israel’s growing relations with India on its links with the United States and various Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

5. India has high expectations in regard to Israel’s S&T and innovation. If Israel does not continue to rise to these expectations, disappointment could set in.

India has sought and received Israeli cooperation in three priority areas: a) Water; b) Agriculture; and c) Homeland Security. That said, there is enormous room for growth.

6. India’s economic and political links with the Middle East have grown faster than its research on this region in India’s academia and think tanks. Indian experts have noted that India has few professional Arabists, and that in their view, the analytic capacity of its severely understaffed Foreign Service lags behind that of all other large countries involved in the Middle East.

  • Initiate a regular Indo-Israeli strategic dialogue between Israeli, Jewish, and senior Indian policy experts and former government officials on world affairs including the wider Middle East (in professional jargon, a “Track 1.5 dialogue”).
  • Israeli defense and other companies trading with India should be invited to help fund this dialogue, as a long-term investment in their business interests. In many Western countries large companies help funding professional colloquia, research, and publications in their fields of interest without asking for a direct return and without interfering.

7. Until the 2014 elections, the true or alleged hostility of India’s Muslims (at least 15 percent of the population) as well as the traditional “Third World” hostility against Israel were India’s main rationales for keeping political links with Israel to a minimum. As it turns out, the Middle East conflict is not a priority for the overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims. Many of them are moderate. A few years ago, Muslim leaders accepted invitations to visit Israel. Israel’s Embassy in Delhi has set up an Urdu-language website, the primary language of Indian Muslims.

In addition to the proposed links between the Jewish Diaspora and India’s Muslims (Recommendation 3), Israel should seek and increase contacts with India’s Muslims by using all appropriate means of communication, personal meetings and invitations to visit Israel.

8. The geographic distribution of Israel’s diplomatic representatives across the world appears to represent yesterday’s reality, not the world of tomorrow. Israel is pivoting toward Asia with its 4.73 billion inhabitants (as for example 410 million in South America). Trade with Asia represents 24 percent of Israel’s total trade (as compared to trade with South America which represents approximately 4 percent). Bi-lateral relations with most Asian countries are good or excellent if one excludes UN voting patterns, which have no real effect on actual relations. However, the number of Israeli officials dealing with Asia falls short of the needs generated by Israel’s Asia pivot.

Substantially increase the number of Israel’s diplomatic, economic, and cultural representatives in India and elsewhere in Asia, as well as the India and Asia personnel working in the various government ministries.

9. Both Indian and Israeli sources have reported that Indians have been subject to onerous security checks at Ben Gurion International Airport. This could dissuade Indians from visiting Israel. Virtually all important Indian businesspeople have visa stamps from Arab and other Muslim countries in their passports.

Train Israel’s security personnel to be more sensitive to Indian visitors at Ben Gurion International Airport and reduce the overly intrusive procedures and searches of such visitors, including sometimes high-level persons.