Last night, panelists held a discussion at the Law School regarding what may be an emerging political and cultural alliance between India and Israel. Bwog dispatched not one but two correspondants to the event in order to give readers as well-rounded a perspective as possible. Below, in the first part of our series, Armin Rosen presents his take:
Monday is the dreariest day of the week, and Israel is generally on the drearier end of frustrating geopolitical issues. Imagine the dual misfortune of another spiritually dehydrating Monday and another discouraging panel discussion on how Israel and the greater Middle East is completely FUBAR, and it would look nothing like last night’s forum on the “emerging” relationship between Israel and India. The discussion, which included representatives from Jewish and Indian organizations as well as the former Indian ambassador to Israel (and current ambassador to the United States), ended with a surfeit of popadoms and potato curry.
For those who haven’t tried it yet, veggie Indian food is the shit. But no foodstuff, no matter how delicious, can allay the piercing skepticism of one who has just been subjected to two mind-erasing hours of Asian Hum. It can only give him the taste for meat…or, in this case, curry powder.
Some explanation: the event, entitled “India, America, Israel: Emerging Relations” explored the strong and somewhat counterintuitive bilateral relationship between India and Israel. According to the evening’s panelists, Israel and India conduct almost $3 billion worth of trade with one another, and cooperate in virtually all areas of security and defense. Ambassador Raminder Singh Jassal provided interesting reason for this: both countries are democracies that face unique social and economic challenges, they share similar strategic interests, particularly regarding security, and they have followed similar historical trajectories.
But the more intriguing, and likely more accurate, explanation for the countries’ close economic, cultural (Jassal says his office issued an average of 36,000 Indian visas a year to Israeli citizens) and strategic ties came from Probal DasGupta, a former major in the Indian Army and a student in the School of International and Public Affairs. DasGupta’s arrestingly simple and almost unimpeachable explanation is that the alliance finds its origins in the universal human desire not to get blown up by terrorists. Israel and India are both in the proverbial “tough neighborhood,” surrounded by countries that want to destroy them and peopled by a significant number of militant insurgent elements. Cooperation on defense, which includes intelligence-sharing, and might go as far as the creation of Israeli-Indian naval bases in the Indian Ocean, has benefited both countries, he notes.
It was gratifying for me to learn that Israel has an apparently strong alliance with a country that will soon pass Japan as the world’s third largest economy, and even more gratifying to know that a country with about half the world’s Jewish population is dealing constructively with a government representing roughly a fifth of the human race. At the same time, the extent to which that constructive relationship relies on military cooperation and strategic calculation made it difficult to tell exactly how deep Indian-Israeli ties run. The evening’s first speaker, Mandakini Sud of the United Nations Development Program, contended that alliances have more to do with prevailing feelings of interpersonal kinship—the “common man” factor—than they do with blowing shit up. I couldn’t agree with her more.
One more hop-worthy note: During the post-forum question-and-answer—at which point I was too busy drooling over the prospect of free Indian food to really be paying much attention to what was going on—a grad student asked a representative from the American Jewish Committee (AJC director David Harris was supposed to sit on the forum but did not attend) why she had dwelt so heavily on the pluralistic nature of Indian and Israeli society when her own organization had published what the questioner characterized as a “blacklist” of anti-Israel American college professors. Intrigued by the possibility that a night dedicated to cooperation between two very different communities had inadvertently exposed a rift within Judaism, I caught up with this person after the event and, in what must be the single least politically correct moment of my journalistic career, asked her, on the record, if she was Jewish.
“I don’t see how that’s pertinent to anything,” she replied. I am not sure whether or not she meant it ironically.