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February 20, 2012 10:35 am

Twisted Twitter Chatter, The Hindu, and Jews

avatar by David Harris


front page of The Hindu.

Let’s begin with the tweets themselves.

From Narayan Lakshman, Washington-based correspondent for The Hindu, a prominent Indian left-of-center newspaper, to his foreign affairs editor in New Delhi, R.K. Krishnan, citing an article he wrote for the paper last week:

“India can seek oil elsewhere in West Asia: American Jewish Committee.”

From Krishnan:

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“Will the Jews lend money to refurbish refineries too?”

From Lakshman:

“I sort of asked them about that, but… ahem… no solutions offered :)”

From Krishnan:

“So, the answer is they don’t care if the poor freeze to death or are forced to skip meals. Their Will (sic) has to prevail?’

From Lakshman:

“Not if Ahmedinejad has something to say about it…”

Now for the background.

On February 11, AJC wrote to India’s ambassador to the United States. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Dear Ambassador Rao:

As you are aware, AJC has been a long-time friend of India and an advocate of increasingly close cooperation between Washington and New Delhi.

In that spirit, we were deeply troubled by recent news reports of Indian efforts to intensify trade relations with Iran at the very moment that Washington and fellow democracies are applying new economic pressures in the banking and energy sectors to persuade Tehran to halt its pursuit of nuclear-weapons capability.

We were particularly struck by the announcement this week, by Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar, that “a huge delegation” of Indian business representatives would soon travel to Iran to capitalize on opportunities created by European withdrawal from the Iranian market. This suggests that New Delhi is attempting to take advantage of sanctions adopted by like-minded nations for the explicit purpose of preventing nuclear proliferation by a dangerously aggressive regime — and which could, in turn, trigger an escalating arms race — in a highly volatile region.

That letter triggered media interest in India, including questions, via email, from Lakshman.

We sent the following reply:

AJC has been a long-time friend of India. Indeed, our relationship goes back more than two decades, and the fruitful cooperation has grown from year to year. We believe the potential for further growth in ties among the United States, India and Israel is quite limitless.

Our concern about Iran-India links needs to be put in that context of friends talking to friends. We understand that India has geopolitical interests in the region and energy needs for its surging economy that are quite specific. At the same time, nuclear-aspiring Iran poses a profound threat to the region and the world. The terrorist events of recent days only further underscore the point.

Thus, we believe that India should not be seeking to take advantage of a vacuum created in the Iranian market by laudable steps enacted by the United States, European Union, and likeminded nations.

Why would India act in such a way as to effectively undermine the aims in Iran of its most natural global partners? Why would India, committed to regional and global security, wish to enable a defiant and destabilizing Iran to grow stronger by circumventing new sanctions? And why, in any case, would India seek risky contracts in Iran that may not materialize because of the inherent instability of the situation?

As for energy sources, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, and other oil-exporting countries are creating a sufficient swing capacity to make up for any lost Iranian oil. I wish that Israel were in this category of energy-exporting nations, and thus in a position to assist its friend, India. That day may come in the not-too-distant future, but, alas, it is not here yet.

On February 16, The Hindu published Lakshman’s article. The twitter exchange between Lakshman and Krishnan followed.

What are we to make of this rather revealing episode?

First, the facts were all easily available had either Lakshman or Krishnan been interested. Obviously, they were not.

AJC has been a leading voice to advance Indo-U.S. relations, bringing them out of the icy Cold War era to their current warmth. That includes having actively supported the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, the most important pact between the two countries in the past half-century.

It also means, as acts of solidarity, having rebuilt a school in Gujarat state after the earthquake in 2001, and constructing a fish market in Chennai following the tsunami in 2004.

In a similar vein, AJC has helped spearhead the successful effort to forge ties between the Indian and Jewish communities in the United States, which in turn has had an impact on the rapidly developing links among the U.S., India, and Israel.

Moreover, while Krishnan accuses AJC of indifference to those Indians who would “freeze to death” or “are forced to skip meals,” he does not bother to mention what we actually called for. In fact, what AJC said is exactly what is being asked for by American, European, and other governments, namely, that India, a fellow democracy, not step into the breach created by sanctions against Iran to increase its trade. Apropos, importantly, the Times of India reported Saudi Arabia had offered India additional crude supplies should they be needed.

In other words, these journalistic provocateurs created a red herring by invoking unwarranted images of starvation and death, and associating them with “the Jews,” for whom they obviously haven’t the highest regard.

And finally, in the coup de grâce, Lakshman — with seeming indifference, if not outright glee — suggests “the Jews” may not turn out to be a long-term issue, at least if Ahmedinejad has his say.

Well, for those of us who don’t want Ahmedinejad and company to have their say regarding Jews — or any other potential target — yes, it does matter what key countries, including India, do or don’t do vis-à-vis the Iranian regime.

The good news is that these journalists are not representative of the mainstream views of most Indians, for whom anti-Semitism has been anathema for centuries — indeed, there is no history of anti-Semitism in the country and the Jewish community has always been well-integrated — and Israel today is seen as a valued friend and ally.

The bad news is they reach a lot of people through the newspaper — 2.1 million readers, plus website — and have revealed their innermost — and ugliest — thoughts to the world.

And, as experience has amply shown, when it comes to the global media, sadly, they are not alone.

Caveat lector! Let the reader beware!

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