On May 16, 2014, when the result of the Indian general election was announced, I was in Israel for a lecture tour. Narendra Modi’s victory prompted me to spend that day in Jaffa, the ancient port city in the southern part of Tel Aviv and famous for its oranges.
Jaffa, predominantly a Palestinian city, came under Israeli occupation after the 1948 war and thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee.
Now, one third of Jaffa’s population still comprises Palestinians. In Israel, Jaffa has been one of the few areas where Muslims and Jews have co-existed now for decades, but the influx of Israeli hardliners in this decade and with them the rigid Zionist ideology has made the situation quite volatile.
The city’s Arab population is living in a terrible condition or gradually being forced to move out. The state supported Israelisation of Jaffa has made it a “powder keg” situated next to Israel’s capital.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the second longest serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history after David Ben-Gurion, is a right-wing hardliner, who has made his political career by portraying Palestinians as an existential threat to the Jewish state of Israel.
He has thrived on playing the politics of fear, vilifying Arabs and demonising Muslims. Thanks to his brand of politics, not only in Jaffa but a million of Arab Israelis in the whole country have been forced to the edge.
Like Netanyahu in Israel, Modi is pursuing his far-right politics in India while fanning anti-Muslim sentiment. Hindu nationalists in India revere Israel for the successful domination of its Muslim neighbourhood.
They not only envisage India following Israel’s apartheid model to deal with the minorities at home, but also always dream of turning India into an aggressive state like Israel in the region.
In the pursuit of that aggressive nationalist agenda, Modi has not only gone on a shopping binge of readymade military hardware, but is also promoting some of his industrialist cronies without previous experience in the arms production sector to collaborate with foreign arms manufacturers for joint production in the name of “Make in India”. 2017 has already become a record year of Israeli weapons sales to India.
Modi has no plan to travel to Ramallah for a customary meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas as most world leaders visiting Israel do. Photo: Reuters
In April 2016, Israel’s Aerospace Industries (IAI) received its largest ever defense contract of $1.6 billion from the Indian Army for the land-based version of the Barak 8 air defence system. A month later, IAI signed another defence contract of $630 million with Bharat Electronics (BEL) for its naval version for four vessels.
During his visit, Modi might sign a deal worth about $500 million to purchase 8000 Spike anti-tank missiles. There is also the possibility of India finalising a $1 billion Phalcon deal as well.
India getting weapons from Israel is not a new development. Israel has supplied arms to India in the past when India had fought wars with China in 1962, and with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. At the time of the Kargil War, Israel had also provided surveillance drones and laser-guided missiles to India.
However, until Modi became the Prime Minister, most of these defence transactions were done quietly. But Modi has abandoned that cautious and time-tested approach. Moreover, he is moving India away from its established policy of not compromising in its support to the Palestinian struggle.
India and Israel have maintained more than cordial relations for many decades in spite of India’s open and firm support for the Palestinian cause. Though both countries have established a diplomatic relationship since 1992 and Israel has become the third-largest arms supplier for India, behind only Russia and the US, it is for the first time a sitting Prime Minister of India is visiting Israel.
While undertaking this high-profile visit, Modi has no plan to travel down to Ramallah for a customary meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas as most world leaders visiting Israel do. Even President Pranab Mukherjee in 2015 had first gone to the West Bank before travelling to Israel.
Since independence, India has maintained support for Palestine. Even Albert Einstein’s request had not budged Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947 to provide support for the creation of the state of Israel. That year, India voted against the 1947 UN partition plan for Palestine, and only in 1950 recognised Israel.
India’s support for Palestine has been continuing since Nehru’s time. This policy is not only in line with the sentiments of India’s largest religious minorities, but also standing with universal principles of justice and fairness and confirming to majority global opinion.
However, the RSS refuses to forgive Nehru for not turning India into a “Hindu Pakistan”, and considers India’s support for Palestine as part of Congress’ so-called appeasement policy towards Indian Muslims.
Modi by undertaking this official visit to Israel as PM and not including a trip to Ramallah is pandering to his Hindutva support base. His majoritarian politics thrives on taking political and policy positioning going against the sentiments of Muslim minorities. While he is avoiding a trip to the West Bank, he has found time to schedule a meeting with Moshe Holtzberg, the Israeli child who lost his parents in Nariman House in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. That is to exhibit a façade of a common bond between India and Israel against Islamic extremism.
As an opinion piece in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz points out, Modi can afford to ignore the Palestinians. Modi’s Hindutva politics not only encourages him to ignore Palestine, but also to build an open alliance with Zionist forces.
Common hatred towards Muslims fuels a Netanyahu and Modi bromance and their partnership is bound to cause further anxiety among India’s minority population. However, Modi by promoting Israel’s “Jaffa” model in India hopes to strengthen his majoritarian support base, but it will come at the cost of peace and stability in the country.