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India, Israel, and a natural ideological affinity

LiveMint logoLiveMint 04-06-2017 Vivek Dehejia

This year marks a quarter-century since India and Israel established formal diplomatic relations, and, in July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will become the first Indian leader to visit Israel. As if by providence, this important anniversary coincides with the half-century anniversary of the Six Day War, which established Israel’s hegemony over its neighbourhood and vanquished once and for all the baleful designs of her hostile Arab neighbours.

Modi’s forthcoming visit has occasioned much fine commentary on what India may learn from Israel, especially on matters of internal and external security, including a pair of sharply argued pieces by economist Rupa Subramanya in this newspaper (“What India Can Learn From Israel”, 30 May) and by security expert Abhijit Iyer-Mitra in The Indian Express (“Lessons From Tel Aviv For Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, 31 May).

To say that the appearance of such pieces in the mainstream Indian press is music to my ears would be to put it mildly. There was a time, not so long ago, when the open embrace of Israel in India—although not necessarily the reverse—was frowned upon by our left-leaning intelligentsia, which harboured, along with leftist elites elsewhere, the standard radical chic embrace of the Palestinian cause (university campuses in North America are among the worst, often succouring those with more or less blatantly anti-Semitic views, masquerading as “progressive” support for the Palestinian cause).

On this subject of the blossoming friendship between India and Israel at least, I can fairly take credit for being in the vanguard.

In June 2003, I published an essay, “India-Israel-United States: An Axis of Good” (archived here: https://goo.gl/hEQFLE), explicitly arguing the case for a tripartite alliance between India, Israel, and the US, based both on principle and on strategic considerations.

I wrote then: “It is time for principle to trump expediency, and for India to come out of the closet, and declare itself publicly, and at the highest level, an ally of the United States and Israel, and fully join the ranks of the international coalition of the willing, fighting the good fight against global terrorism. India, Israel, and the United States are natural allies. All three are democratic and pluralistic societies, and all have suffered grievously from the scourge of Islamic terrorism.”

I added further: “…it should not be forgotten that India and Israel are the only non-Islamic, pro-Western, democratic states in a huge swathe stretching from North Africa to the borders of China.”

To say that such views were unfashionable at the time would be an understatement. No mainstream newspaper in India or anywhere else would touch it, and the piece finally appeared on an American centre-right online platform.

I recall sharing the article with a friend, a scholar on the centre-right in India who I thought might be sympathetic. He pooh-poohed my suggestion that India ought to declare publicly its friendship for Israel, as the latter, he averred, was still seen as a “pariah” everywhere but the US.

The only scholars to embrace my argument at the time were so-called American “neo-conservatives”, and I received supportive comments from Richard Perle and David Frum, which gave me reason to believe that the argument might carry wider currency with conservative strands of thought in the areas of security and intelligence studies.

That there is a natural strategic and burgeoning economic relationship between India and Israel is now becoming clear to everyone, including the erstwhile naysayers.

What is emphasized less than it ought to be, in my judgement, is also a natural convergence of ideas: between the ideological convictions of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India and the Likud Party in Israel, for instance, to say nothing of the striking and important intellectual parallels between the tenets of Zionism and of Hindutva, which run far deeper than any notion of political expediency.

The concept that Israel is the natural home of the world’s Jewish peoples, a place to which they hold a birthright, is a central tenet of Zionism, which fed the intellectual currents that gave birth to the Jewish state in 1948.

It is irresistible to compare this to the concept that India is the natural home of the world’s Hindus, a place to which they, in their turn, have a birthright. And, indeed, it seems self-evident that the former was one of the intellectual wellsprings of the latter. The fact that Judaism and Hinduism are the only major non-proselytizing religions in the world cements what is clearly a natural ideological affinity.

My 2003 piece concluded with these observations: “Apart from the strategic and security advantages to be gained through such an arrangement [a US-India-Israel axis], there is a strong moral argument to be made for the natural alliance of democratic and peace-loving states, who wish to be assured of the security of their borders, which are threatened by rogue states, and that of their own citizens, who are threatened by international, mainly Islamic, terrorists. Such an alliance could rightly be dubbed an ‘axis of good,’ a salutary and beneficial counterbalance to one or more axes of evil that today imperil global peace and prosperity.”

Every fortnight, In The Margins explores the intersection of economics, politics and public policy to help cast light on current affairs. Read Vivek’s Mint columns at www.livemint.com/vivekdehejia

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