I for I? Can India and Israel really be siblings?

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have made history in Israel, but to suggest that the two nations are kindred entities is to ignore certain key differences between the two.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks to share friendly ties with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu at the Olga Beach in Israel on Thursday. But there is a sea of difference between Israel and India. | PTI

As Narendra Modi traverses Israel as the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the country, many cultural and political parallels are being drawn between the two nations. Mr. Modi, in fact, turned a phrase as he has done often, coming up with "I for I. Which means India for Israel and Israel for India." Many people do welcome this. Some even say India should follow Israel’s footsteps in fighting terror and ensuring regional dominance. But despite the hubris they share, certain incompatibilities are there between the two nations, plain and simple.

There is no moral equivalence between India and Israel. Our founders fought Imperialism and built a modern secular republic (though its foundations are now under attack), while Israel is a settler-colonial nation implanted by Imperialism, which has been occupying another people for the last fifty years and transforming itself into an apartheid entity. (Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, Sinai and Gaza from Egypt and Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 June War. It returned Sinai later, withdrew from Gaza and imposed a blockade around the strip in 2005, but still continues occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Golan). So, when you get jealous about Israel and advise India to follow the path set by Israel, you're not raising India's profile, but actually demeaning it instead.

No the argument is not against having diplomatic ties with Israel. The times have changed. India is an emerging economic power living in a well-connected world. India has already established a defence partnership with Israel and there's cooperation in agricultural technology. But having bilateral and commercial ties is one thing and endorsing Israel's strong-arm tactics is quite another. But the dehyphenation of Israel-Palestine, which the so-called strategic community in New Delhi is jubilant about, does just that.

 

How can one dehyphenate Israel from Palestine when the former continues its illegal occupation of the latter? And this is happening at a time when Israel is coming under growing international condemnation for “war crimes” in Gaza, continuing to hold settlements in the West Bank and its lack of interest in bringing a peaceful end to the occupation.

The Indian Prime Minister is actually letting the Israelis use India's international reputation, which his predecessors painstakingly built by standing tall against colonialism and for the Third World, to whitewash itself and to tell the world, "See, the leader of the world's largest democracy is our closest friend." India should have avoided that. Or, at the very least, Prime Minister Modi, like President Pranab Mukherjee did in 2015, should have gone to Ramallah as well. Keep in mind that Israel had expressed its unhappiness with India’s “lenience” towards Palestine late last year during President Pranab Mukherjee's visit.

Another much-heard aspect during this visit is Israel's security-preparedness. So, is Israel a desirable security model for India to imitate?

Israel is the only nuclear armed state in West Asia, though it hasn't officially declared itself so. By conducting cross-border strikes in Lebanon, Palestinian territories, or even in Syria, Israel doesn't face an immediate escalation of a conventional war. Hezbollah and Hamas have the potential to fire rockets into Israel, target its citizens and mount pressure on the country's political leadership. They could also make any Israeli ground operation costly. But they are largely guerrilla forces who use asymmetric tactics rather than pose any existential threats. So the risk Israel takes with its cross-border attacks is the human cost of such operations and inviting hostile international public opinion. Israel’s history shows that it is not very bothered about either of these things.

 

The Indian Prime Minister is actually letting the Israelis use India's international reputation, which his predecessors painstakingly built by standing tall against colonialism and for the Third World, to whitewash itself and to tell the world, "See, the leader of the world's largest democracy is our closest friend."

On the other hand, India, with two nuclear-armed powers in the neighbourhood, is situated in a very different geopolitical region from Israel. A serious overseas terrorist threat it faces is from Pakistan, a nuclear power with considerable conventional military prowess. That is not to say that India shouldn't act against border aggressions or infiltrations, but rather that it should play by a limited hostility doctrine. It can’t risk a nuclear war.

India's motto is not to live in a permanent state of war, like Israel does, but to live with a stable neighbourhood. We are an internationally responsible nation, not one that lives in perpetual violation of international laws. So no, Israel is neither a practical nor desirable security model for India.

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Last month, I had a brief chat with someone, which shows how the fans of Israel are approaching the occupation. It went something like this:

"Hi, I like your articles on ISIS." "Thank you." "But your views on Israel are terrible." "Well, let it be" "Aren't you a Christian?" "How does it matter here?" "You should be happy that Jerusalem is controlled by the Jews. Imagine if it were with the Muslims."

(This piece is partly a compilation of views expressed by the author in previous articles for The Hindu)

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