India: Israel’s Friend?

By Aijaz Syed

It’s hard not to admire Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi whose 60th death anniversary India commemorated last week. Without Gandhi, the history of India’s freedom struggle would be as incomplete as Shakespeare’s Hamlet without Prince of Denmark.
But the lasting impact of the man derided by Churchill as a ‘half-naked fakir’ is hardly limited to the sub-continent. From Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King, every aspiring leader has turned to him for inspiration and guidance. What really wins hearts and minds of ordinary people like me is Gandhi’s utter humility and equally unshakable faith in his beliefs and ideals.
And the more you read about him, the more he impresses you as a leader who looked far ahead of his time.  More importantly, he had the courage of conviction and spoke the truth as it is.

Look at the following lines, written 70 years ago, in 1938.  Commenting on the campaign by imperial powers and Zionist groups to found Israel on Palestinian land, Gandhi wrote in his paper Harijan on Nov 26, 1938:  “My sympathies are all with the Jews. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close.
“But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?
“Palestine belongs to Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It’s wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. It would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home. The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred.”
Historic words or what?  It’s as if the Mahatma’s far-sighted eyes saw the disastrous consequences the creation of Israel in the heart of the Arab world at the gunpoint by the Western powers would unleash.
Reading Gandhi’s prophetic words today, I wonder how the Mahatma would react to the growing proximity between the country he fought hard to liberate and the state whose creation he warned would be a ‘crime against humanity’.

Given his strong views on Palestine and the imperial attempts to impose their own Jewish population on the Arabs, I wonder what the visionary leader would have said on the Indian establishment’s current wooing of Israel, the world’s most racist and ruthless regime.  It was Gandhi’s unwavering support for Arab position that set the direction of independent India’s foreign policy and consistent backing for the Palestinian cause.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister and a formidable leader in his own right, carried the Gandhian legacy forward with his passionate championing of the Palestinian cause and identification with the Arabs.
Nehru’s successors including his daughter Indira and grandson Rajiv Gandhi followed in his footsteps. India led the developing world in vehemently speaking out against Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians at every available opportunity and platform. No wonder India had a special place in the hearts of the Palestinians too. The inimitable Yasser Arafat used to be a frequent visitor to India and very close to the Gandhis, especially to Indira. She had been the sister Abu Ammar (Arafat) never had.
This is exactly why this newfound love of the current Indian leaders for Israel and all that it stands for is most bewildering, to say the least.  It’s all the more disconcerting considering the present government is led by the Congress, the party of the Gandhis, the Nehrus, the Ali brothers, Azad and millions of other freedom loving people.
I wonder what Gandhi and Nehru would make of the recent launch of an Israeli spy satellite by India. Even though the Indian government has been rather coy about this whole spooky business, Israel itself has reassured its people that the satellite would help it spy on Iran, Syria and ‘other enemies of Israel’ in the Middle East.   
You don’t have to be a genius to know who Israel’s enemies are.  In other words, the whole of Arab and Muslim world has come under the hawk eyes of this satellite.
What was the Indian government thinking? Are we now going to spy on our friends for Israel?
India’s ties with the Middle East go way back in time, even before Islam. These relations have developed and strengthened over the past thousand years or so, thanks to India’s large Muslim community. With a population of over 200 million, the community is the world’s biggest Muslim community.
No wonder the whole of Arab and Muslim world including Iran has always seen India as a great friend and ally; a friend who has always stood by them and spoken out against injustice everywhere.

On the other hand, the only thing common between India and Israel is the letter ‘I’.
This is why these growing ties between India and Israel are so profoundly disturbing. 
This is what we had all feared when US president Bush inked that now infamous nuclear deal with PM Manmohan Singh.

As many courageous Indian leaders including Prakash Karat of CPM have warned, this deal with the US comes at a great price to India’s ideals and interests.
The reigning superpower, already thinly spread in the Middle East and Central Asia, is desperately looking for a surrogate power to promote its own agenda and protect its geopolitical interests. And India is that surrogate power. 
There are no free lunches in the world of international relations. Everything is quid pro quo. And India’s growing ‘cooperation’ with Israel is part of this quid pro quo. 

You marry Uncle Sam and you end up with Israel as stepson.
But even if this new love of Indian leadership for Israel is driven by the national interest, it’s overlooking some fundamental facts at a great cost to India’s long-term geopolitical interests.
In case the memory of the South Block mandarins has deserted them, here are some home truths to refresh it: 
The Middle East is home to a large Indian population. In fact, it is the biggest Indian Diaspora, much bigger than our more pampered cousins in the US and Europe. While the people of Indian origin in the West are never likely to return home for good, Indians in the Gulf eventually go home. More important, the Indians in the Gulf are the biggest single source of vital foreign exchange for their country.
If India is one of the fastest growing economies today and has emerged as a key economic player on the world stage, this steady source of income from the Gulf has played a crucial role in it.   
Does the Indian leadership want to jeopardize all this by dumping its traditional friends in the Muslim world for a murderous, apartheid state based on lies and deception?
Besides, isn’t it strange that at a time when an energy-hungry world is increasingly reaching out to the Middle East — home to the world’s most known reserves of oil and gas — India is snapping out of its historical ties with the Muslim world? Just look at China. Why do you think it’s bending backwards to woo the Arabs and Iranians?  
But even if we rise above this business of national interest, just look at what Israel, backed by the US, has been doing to the Palestinians? The whole of Palestine has been transformed into a large concentration camp and gulag with its people being deprived of daily basics like food, water and fuel? Hundreds of thousands of innocents have paid with their lives for the Holocaust the Zionists have inflicted on the Holy Land.  And we want to be partners and friends with such people?
Would Gandhi approve of it? Given his beliefs and ideals, I bet the Mahatma would be leading another long march against this betrayal of India’s cherished ideals.  

-Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior editor and columnist of Khaleej Times. Write to him at

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