Indian PM Modi’s Historic Visit to Israel Sends Powerful Message to Jewish State’s Detractors, Top Expert Says
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Israel is a wake-up call to those who believe the Jewish state is isolated and friendless, a leading expert on Indian-Israeli relations told The Algemeiner on Thursday.
“Those who say we are isolated, as [former President Barack] Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry did, should switch on the news,” said Shalom Wald — a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) in Jerusalem and the co-author of the recently-published book, India, Israel and the Jewish People: Looking Ahead, Looking Back 25 Years After Normalization.
The “tremendous success” of Modi’s visit was an appropriate riposte to Kerry’s December 2016 speech in which he warned that Israel’s policies in the West Bank were isolating the country from the rest of the international community, Wald said.
“Just by visiting, Modi confirmed publicly that he had undertaken a major U-turn in Indian policy,” Wald said. “The Indian media was enthusiastic, hundreds of millions of Indians heard about Israel and Judaism for the first time.”
Modi’s visit to Israel — the first by a serving Indian premier since both countries achieved independence from British rule in 1947-48 — came to an end on Thursday. Before departing for the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu headed to Haifa’s Olga Beach, where they attended a demonstration of an Israeli-designed desalination unit that can provide clean drinking water for up to 22,000 people per day.
Later on, the two premiers lunched with Indian and Israeli CEOs. “We are making a partnership here, a real one, to excel in innovation for both of our peoples and for the entire world,” Netanyahu told the gathering.
“Israel is known as a ‘start-up nation,'” Modi said. “It has a unique sense and ecosystem of innovation and incubation. Credit must go to the Israeli entrepreneurs.”
Israeli and Indian companies finalized deals on trade worth up to $5 billion at the meeting, the Times of India reported.
Modi’s visit covered an enormous range of issues, with media attention concentrating largely on commercial trade and the potential for Israeli technology to revolutionize Indian agriculture. But defense and security cooperation was also a significant, if less visible, component of the trip, Wald observed.
“Wisely, Netanyahu and Modi spoke little about military cooperation,” he said. “There was no need to antagonize the Arab states and the Palestinians on this point.”
When Modi was first elected as India’s prime minister in 2014, Wald judged his victory at the time to be “a good day for Israel — a ray of hope in the country’s difficult situation.” In the intervening period, he has become only more optimistic.
“His victory of 2014 was massively repeated in March 2017,” Wald said in reference to Modi’s landslide win which saw him take India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, by a victory margin not seen in thirty years. Many Indian pundits are predicting a Modi triumph on a similar scale in the forthcoming 2019 general election.
“This is now really a long-term leadership,” Wald said, comparing Modi to Jawaharlal Nehru, one of India’s most charismatic independence leaders who served as prime minister from 1947-64.
Wald said that Modi would have to remain “sensitive to the 15 percent of the Indian population that is Muslim.” But, he added, there had been a marked lack of protest among India’s Muslim population, who number nearly 200 million, over Modi’s embrace of ties with Israel.
“Israel is not the priority for Indian Muslims,” Wald said. “They want bread on their tables and they want freedom of access to their mosques. Israel is far away.”
In addition, Wald said, Israel’s burgeoning alliance with New Delhi could favorably impact the Jewish state’s relations with other countries in the region that are closely tied with India — among them Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, the latter a predominantly Muslim country that achieved independence from Muslim Pakistan in large part because of Indian military intervention.
Wald concluded that Israel now faces a strong challenge in living up to the high expectations generated by Modi’s visit.
“We have done a lot of good in India, but India expects a lot from Israel – if we don’t perform, disappointment will set in,” he said. “For example, Israeli drip irrigation currently serves 60,000 farmers in India, but they have 600 million farmers. Can we upgrade to this scale?”
Wald expressed confidence that India would be left with few regrets. “Israelis are extremely inventive, and they have an ability to improvise,” he said.
Wald observed that Israelis had watched Modi’s visit with a degree of delighted amazement. “Jews are always suspicious when things are too good,” he joked. “We are no longer used to people loving us so much.”