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May 31, 2016 1:03 pm

Amid Renewed Talk of Historic Modi Trip to Israel, Spokesman in New Delhi Says ‘BDS Far From Indian Mentality’

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Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in October 2015. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in October 2015. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO.

The anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has no stronghold in India, a spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.

“BDS is far from the Indian mentality,” said Ohad Horsandi, who was discussing the intricacies of what he called the “improving, but delicate” relations between the two countries, in light of a report in The Hindu over the weekend that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduling a trip to Israel in a few months.

According to the report, the trip – which would be the first-ever visit of an Indian premier to the Jewish state – is being arranged to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between New Delhi and Jerusalem.

Horsandi confirmed that a visit by Modi is “being discussed,” simultaneously stressing that it is only in the theoretical stage at this point, but being seriously considered. “Such a trip would constitute the filling in of the last missing piece of the puzzle,” he said.

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He said that both the Indian public and the Modi government view Israel as a partner in many successful cooperative endeavors, such as security, technology, agriculture, water and innovation.

As for the “delicacy” of the ties, Horsandi explained, “India was one of the founders of the non-aligned movement (at the United Nations), and has had a historically pro-Palestinian approach. PLO chief Yasser Arafat was a welcome guest, for example. And prior to the establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel, Indian passports included the phrase, ‘Not valid for travel to South Africa and Israel.’”

Nevertheless, he added, even though the government’s approach is still pro-Palestinian, it considers its relations with Israel – in all the realms of cooperation — as “independent.”

To illustrate, Horsandi pointed to the statement issued by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during Operation Protective Edge – Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza in the summer of 2014. “She said, ‘Our position towards the Palestinians hasn’t changed, but we are advancing our relations with Israel.’” And this was only two months after Modi had assumed office.

Israel and India established diplomatic relations on January 29, 1992. Since then, only one Israeli prime minister – Ariel Sharon – has visited the country. That visit took place in September 2003, at the invitation of then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

In February 2015, outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon traveled there to visit the Aero India defense trade exhibition in Bangalore, and meet with counterparts to discuss the Barak 8 air and missile defense system, jointly developed by India’s Defense Research and Development Organization and the Israel Aerospace Industries.

From the Indian side, in October 2015, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee made a historic visit to Israel. He was followed in January of this year by Swaraj, who first visited the Palestinian Authority. A statement released by her office said it was the minister’s “first destination in the region which in itself reflects the importance India holds for Palestine in its engagement with the countries of the region.”

This came on the heels of the PA having expressed displeasure with India for abstaining in an anti-Israel vote at the UN, an about-face from the previous year, when it had voted with the Palestinians.

Horsandi concluded by saying, “India’s approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not much different from that of Europe, in that it believes in a two-state solution, but there’s no question that since Modi’s election, India has been more public about its working relationship with Israel.”

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