“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
As Israel increasingly proves itself to be a high tech giant and a seemingly unstoppable contender in the world market, the Jewish state is continually forging strong bonds across the globe including with India, the second most populous country in the world.
Indians For Israel was established in 2012 by a group of Indians residing in Europe who were motivated not only by a desire to boost economic relations between the two countries, but also by the desire to combat anti-Semitism which increasingly manifests itself on Europe’s streets.
The founder of the organization, Vijeta Uniyal, a Hindu-raised, Indian-educated writer, contributing editor of the British-based Commentator and political analyst based in Germany explains however, that the need to forge greater ties with Israel goes far beyond the mere recognition of rising anti-Semitism. Rather, Uniyal told TPS that Israel is looked upon with great admiration by the Indian government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Assuming office in May 2014, Modi ran on a reformist platform promising to take India into the modern age. Accordingly, Uniyal says, the prime minister views Israel as a key partner which can facilitate the modernization of India.
Indeed, Israel is India’s second largest arms supplier after Russia. Moreover, last July, India broke with its past record of condemning Israel in the Security Council by abstaining in a vote condemning her during last year’s Gaza operation.
Despite the military relations however, Uniyal does not feel that this represents the strongest foundation in Indo-Israel ties. Indeed, he told TPS that highlighting the military factor plays into “stereotypes” of Israel as a war-stricken country.
“For me Israel is much more than a conflict so we always highlight the other part of the picture rather than the side the media always imposes on the situation,” Uniyal told TPS.
He added that while defensive ties do exist and will grow, economic and technological efforts which will ultimately improve lives, allow for “soft diplomacy” and are far more important.
Uniyal commented that technology, agriculture, water and irrigation are the most important aspects of Indo-Israeli relations. “India has a great demand for food and water resource management, and all those kinds of things, while considered low tech, would save water and energy and improve the production of food. All this would benefit the Indian population in the long run,” he said.
In an op-ed written by Uniyal in the Jerusalem Post on September 30, he described how Israel’s commitment to developing the desert and greening the earth “extends to the Thar Desert, Ganegtic Plains and Wetlands of Bengal.” Indeed, September 24th saw the signing of a final part of a bilateral agricultural cooperative deal between the two countries.
Nevertheless, touching on the need to combat terror, Uniyal said that Israelis and Indians share a common sympathy toward one another as the first victims of modern terror, a phenomenon to which, he said, the world only awakened after 9/11. Despite this however, he claimed that the West remained “in denial” about terrorism from the Middle East.
He told TPS that the “bigger picture” is not yet understood in the West as it is in Israel and India. “They think in Kashmir the problem is domestic politics, in Israel they say it is occupation, in Syria they say it is Shia-Sunni friction. But they don’t understand that it is part of the same thing. India and Israel have been saying all along that this is a bigger picture that is globalizing and not just isolated regional conflict.”
When asked whether he believes that the West will understand in the near future, he responded: “We in India and Israel have to take our own measures. We can’t wait for, or rely on, the West.”
Second Secretary, Eldo Punnoose at the Indian Embassy in Israel, added that he believed that academic collaborations were key to the alliance. “That is how relations are built up. We have close to 550 Indian students in Israel studying. We should capitalize on this to bring the Israeli and Indian students closer together. The flow of scholars is most important.”