Israeli PM Netanyahu has arrived in India today. A good occassion to discuss successive Indian governments’ knee-jerk policies against the state of Israel, which were meant more to curry favour with two-bit Arab states (repressive monarchies or dictatorships to a fault) than a result of genuine understanding of India’s long-term benefits and indeed values. Anand Ranganathan has a fantastic new thread in twitter that lists the litany of Indian diplomatic misjudgements regarding Israel. Worth a read!
Israel is a beacon of democracy in an atrophying West Asia. It is a Western state, based on Enlightenment values and institutions in place to correct error. The local culture is also very technology-focussed, as is expected of a population that wishes to survive (and thrive) in a region largely devoid of much mineral wealth, agricultural productivity and beset by neighbouring totalitarian states hell-bent on revanchism. In this Indians have a lot to learn from Israelis.
Israel too (as any human society) has its own serious social issues: how to be a culturally Jewish state and yet remain secular, how to control/mainstream an increasing ultra-Orthodox population (or the Arab minority) that are stuck in their rigid social mores, or how to rein in the Zionist extremists who believe in encroachment to fulfil vague Biblical promises etc. In that Israel is no different from any modern multi-ethnic democracy as the same shortcomings plague the US or, even more significantly, India.
My first interaction with Israelis was with some visiting academics at my college in India. I remember them as fantastic teachers – extremely interactive during class and very appreciative of questions during lectures – a quality Indian professors tend to lack. During my studies abroad, I interacted with many more, professors and students alike. I generally found them to be very hospitable, politically aware, forthright and yet non-intrusive. I now work with and even live amongst them in one of London’s oldest Jewish suburbs.
I hope Indo-Israeli interactions grow beyond the hackneyed group trips of military service weary Israelis to Indian Himalayas or Goa etc or joint defence deals and exercises. I think that because Indians can truly learn a lot from their culture. During my time in college in India, technical internships/education in Israel were often unheard of. Yet, the number of Indian students in Technion, Weizmann etc has grown manifold – now around a tenth of their foreign student population. And summer internships in Israel are becoming very popular among Indian STEM students. I expect this trend to strengthen further.
Some Indian commentators on Twitter e.g. Sudheendra Kulkarni have remarked that India’s close ties with Israel, when it cannot mend its relations with geographical neighbours, shows the failure of Indian diplomacy. While he may be right about Indian diplomacy being no great shakes, close ties between societies are not a function of geographical locus but shared values (which in turn inform interests). So, let me greet Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel on his first visit to India with this old chestnut from the Taittriya Upanishad:
sah naH avatu,
sah nauH bhunaktu,
sah vIryam karvAvahaiH,
tejasvi naH adhItam astu,
om shAntiH shAntiH shAntiH.
May we both be protected together,
may we both be nourished together,
may we both work together with vigour,
may our knowledge be sharp and effective,
may we never dispute with each other,
peace peace peace (be to us).