The Similarities And Differences Between Israel And India

Israel and India had no disputes and shared a similar ideology yet the two nations could not capitalize on their similarities during the decades shortly after their independence. A number of impediments delayed the establishment of cordial ties.

First and foremost their different routes to modern nationhood resulted in divergent orientations. Indian nationalists vehemently opposed the British, whereas, the Zionists co-opted the British for attaining nationhood. In 1917, the British government made a public statement, called the Balfour declaration, announcing its support for the creation of Jewish state. Though, Britain later changed tact and reneged on its earlier commitment towards creating a Jewish state by issuing the White Paper in 1939 in view of the 1936-39 Arab revolt. The White Paper restricted Jews from immigrating to Palestine and purchasing land there.

Regardless of India’s ongoing territorial disputes with Pakistan and China, India’s existence was never in doubt. On the other hand, Israel’s existence as a sovereign state was always challenged by its Arab neighbors. Israel depended on the West, principally the United States, to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Pakistan’s affiliation with the United States prompted India to lean towards the Soviet Union which was anti-Israel.

Anti-Semitism is alien to Indian culture and at the height of Nazi persecution many European Jews sought refuge in India. Jewish refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq migrated to India at the end of World War II. Both Hinduism and Judaism are non-proselyting faiths, unlike Islam and Christianity. Hinduism assimilates and the Jews felt welcomed and accepted in India. India was hospitable to these Jewish refugees notwithstanding its official anti-Israel stance.

Ben Gurion’s policy of non-identification in the cold war context was similar to Nehru’s non alignment. Israel’s most senior diplomat Walter Eytan, impressed with Nehru’s foreign policy vision, believed that both India and Israel should join hands and contribute towards world peace. One can find Nehru’s influence on Israel’s initial policy of neutrality during the Korean crisis, and Israeli recognition of communist China. Israel often used such similarities and convergence of views to promote friendly ties with India.

Though both Israel and India are committed to secularism, Israel is affirmatively a Jewish State while India fights shy of declaring itself as a Hindu state. India sympathized with the Jewish quest for a homeland but was unfamiliar with the sufferings that the Jews underwent in different parts of the world.

The commonalities between India and Israel far outweigh their differences. Both India and Israel achieved Independence after World War II form British colonialism. India attained independence on 15 August 1947 and Israel on 15 May 1948. Both follow the Democratic system of Governance, and have upheld it to date. Both the countries witnessed a huge exodus of humanity post-independence. The horrors of partitioning of the Indian subcontinent into Islamic Pakistan and constitutionally secular India led to the expulsion of Hindus from Pakistan and Muslims similarly fled India in an attempt to escape the violent backlash from Hindu reactionary groups. Migrants of both the communities had to hastily flee from hostile mobs leaving land and property behind. The formation of Israel too saw an exodus of Jews from Europe in the aftermath of the Nazi holocaust and the Arab and Muslim world. A major wave of Jewish immigration to Israel took place between 1948 and 1951. In three and a half years the Jewish population of Israel which stood at 650,000 at the time more than doubled by the arrival of about 688,000 new immigrants.

Notwithstanding ideological and historical similarities, it was only in 1992 that India established diplomatic ties with Israel, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. Until the establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel, India’s coldness towards Israel was in sharp contrast to its friendliness towards both Pakistan and China. Past hostilities and ongoing friction did not prevent India form maintaining cordial diplomatic ties with its two troublesome neighbors. It never expelled ambassadors of both the countries even during periods of military conflicts. For instance, India accorded Pakistan the most-favored-nation status (MFN) or non-discriminatory market access in 1996, under the world trade organization without any reciprocity by Pakistan. A country which provides MFN status to another has to give preference to that country in trade agreements. India and China signed a Trade Agreement in 1984 which provided for Most Favored Nation Treatment and later in 1994, the two countries signed an agreement to avoid double taxation. The bilateral trade crossed US$13.6 billion in 2004 from US$ 4.8 billion in 2002, reaching $18.7 billion in 2005. Geopolitics explains why India is keen to maintain peace with its neighbors and overlook past hostilities. India shares a 3800-kilometre-long border with China. Insofar as India is able to prevent China from invading it by using diplomatic levers, it sees no merit in turning openly hostile. India realizes that any escalation of conflict could be devastating for both the countries. Pakistan presents an altogether different case. It is India’s doppelganger but ideologically opposed to India. By extending an olive branch to Pakistan India hopes to claim the higher moral ground and avoids alienating itself from the Arab and Muslim world on which it is dependent for oil and economically because the Middle East provides employment to many Indians. Moreover, India believes that any military escalation with Pakistan would be devastating as Pakistan is a nuclear armed state.

In the case of Israel, though India had no previous disputes or ideological differences yet it cold shouldered friendly overtures by Israel. Attempts made by Israel’s foreign minister Moshe Sharett to solidify and establish cordial relations in 1956 were rebuffed by India. Sharett’s overtures of friendship was met with hostility, following the Suez crisis.

Alienated by the Arab world, Israel looked for friends and a market for its goods and India offered just the opportunity it needed. But a mix of realpolitik and morality stopped India from warming up to Israel in the decades following independence. India recognized the state of Israel in 1950 yet it took nearly forty-two years for India to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

The thaw in India’s frosty relationship with Israel occurred when the Indian Prime Minister Narsimha Rao took the initiative to establish diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992. Previously the Palestine factor had prevented India from forging friendly relations with Israel. After the 1991-92 during the Kuwait crisis, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Yasser Arafat supported Iraq’s Saddam Hussain in the face of worldwide condemnation of Saddam’s aggression on Iraq’s neighbor Kuwait. Naturally Arafat lost his credibility. Thereafter, India no longer felt it necessary to play the Pro Palestinian card to court favor with the Arabs.

Finally, India shed its old inhibitions by openly acknowledging Israel as a strategic partner. A dramatic shift in bilateral ties occurred in 2014 under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In July 2017, Narendra Modi paid an official visit to Israel – the first by an Indian Prime Minister. In a significant move, Modi broke away from the past practice by Indian officials of visiting both Israel and Palestine out of diplomatic necessity. This signaled to the world that India is able to distinguish Israel from its regional conflict. Another important development under Modi was that India abstained from voting against Israel in the United Nations on the Gaza conflict. Violent conflicts between Israel’s IDF and Hamas in the Gaza strip attracted worldwide condemnation. India showed deep concern for the loss of civilian lives, but and at the same time voiced its disapproval at the cross-border provocations, resulting from rocket attacks against Israel. Days later, the Indian government rejected a parliamentary resolution backed by India’s opposition the Congress and communist parties seeking to condemn Israel over the Gaza attack. The Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu reciprocated Modi’s visit by visiting India in January 2018, with the intention of catapulting this partnership to new heights.

09 March 2021
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