As India, Israel draw closer to fight ‘terrorism’, the tag is getting blurred

India’s stand on Palestine got diluted as economic and military relations with Israel began to flourish. This relationship has now blossomed into an ideological alliance between Hindutva and Zionism

PM Modi with former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu
PM Modi with former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

Saba Kohli Dave

The end of 12 years of the Netanyahu government in Israel has come on the heels of one of the bloodiest escalations between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza. So much so that on May 26, the UN Human Rights Council proposed to set up a Commission of Inquiry to look into the ‘war crimes’ committed by Israel in Gaza and also human rights abuses in Israel’s Palestinian territories.

Despite having supported the Palestinian cause consistently in the past, India was among the 14 countries that abstained from voting –the country’s growing trade and friendship with Israel being the obvious reason. India is now the biggest buyer of Israeli arms, spyware and surveillance equipment and technology. But to understand the bonhomie between the present government in India and Israel, one has to understand the close relationship between Hindutva and Zionism.

The bloody confrontation last month was triggered when the Israeli Defence Force was ordered to evict Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem during the month of Ramzan. The militant Palestinian group Hamas responded by launching rockets into Israel, which retaliated with a bombing blitz on Gaza for 11 consecutive days. Gaza Health Ministry put the toll at 232 civilians killed, including 66 children. Hamas’ rockets killed 12 people in Israel.

The change of government in Israel does not mean lives of Palestinians in Israel will improve. Israeli violence against Palestinians is now systemic - it is ingrained in the self-proclaimed nation-state’s seven decades old regime of apartheid, occupation and settler colonialism. Israel has thrived because of the complicity of other countries, corporations and cultural and academic institutions.

The Zionist movement in Europe declared a Jewish state carved out of Palestine in 1947-48 as the holy land of Jews. This led to forced exile of the Arab population living there, in what the Palestinians call the ‘Nakba’, or ‘catastrophe’. Subsequent years saw strengthening of the Israeli government and Defence Force (IDF) - backed by US money, technology and military aid. The US and the Western World denied Palestinians’s claim for equal citizenship and endorsed instead their physical segregation from Israelis.

Erstwhile colonies including India were initially vocal in their condemnation of neo-colonialism and Israel’s encroachment of Palestinian land. But protests got progressively muted and India’s stand got diluted as economic and military relations between India and Israel began to flourish. This relationship has now blossomed into something even more sinister – an ideological alliance between Hindutva and Zionism.

Netanyahu’s Likud or the present coalition government in Israel, like the BJP in India, believe that their respective ‘holy land’ belongs primarily to one religious/ethnic group - Hindus in India and Jews in Israel - with everyone else living at the margins. The merging of ethno-religious identity with a "holy" geographical area is common to both Hindutva and Zionist nationalism. The right-wing governments in Israel and India have aggressively promoted the Hindu and Jewish identity, and the idea that the nation-states are under attack by Indian Muslims and Palestinians respectively.

Although Zionism perpetuates an anti-Palestinian rather than anti-Muslim sentiment, the Zionist lobby benefits from global Islamophobia. Demonising a Muslim-majority region bolsters a ‘Hindus versus Muslims’ and ‘Jews versus Muslims’ rhetoric. Thus, vilification and criminalisation of Muslims in India and Israel are justified to sustain the ethno-religious sanctity of the two states.

By elevating the state to the level of divinity, public consciousness is manipulated to impress not just who the “homeland” belongs to, but also who belong to the motherland.

Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem has been a sacred place for Muslims not only in Palestine, but all over the world. Apart from regular threats and disturbances inside and around the mosque, many right-wing Israeli factions want to build a Jewish temple in place of Al Aqsa.

The Israeli state is known for erasing Palestinian history by razing old monuments and buildings just as in India, Hindu nationalism also endorses wiping out Islamic history, a case in point being the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the politically sanctioned building of a Ram mandir.

The Hinduisation and Hebraization of street and city names are again common strategies. Names of Palestinian villages and towns were gradually changed from 1948 itself (Bayt Jibrin became Beit Guvrin, Salama became Kfar Shalem) in India, similarly there is a growing trend under BJP rule to Sanskritise Islamic names like renaming Allahabad as Prayagraj. But an even more effective measure to marginalise the minority has been the progressive ghettoization, reducing them to open air prisons.

The parallel between Kashmir and Palestine is hard to miss. Not just the suspension or abrogation of Article 370 but also the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and detention camps for doubtful voters and deemed foreigners resemble similar measures taken by Israel. India and Israel claim to have a common cause against Palestinian and Islamic terrorism.

Palestinian lives are treated as globally dispensable as Western powers justify Israel’s structural persecution of Palestinians. The death toll of Palestinians is treated as just numbers. The world temporarily was shocked last month as Israel bombed Gaza indiscriminately. But the colonial structure which exploits, oppresses and kills Palestinians during “peace-time” continues to be ignored. Israel has not only convinced the world of their greater claim to the land, but also that Israelis count for more than Palestinians.

Modi’s India cannot afford to sit on a moral high horse when it is guilty of condoning similar violations at home. The fact that militant and aggressive Hindutva and Zionism are gaining ground points to the rot in the moral fibre in both societies. As a post-colonial nation, can India ever find a way back to stand by the colonised rather than the coloniser?

(The writer is associated with the School for Democracy , Rajasthan & Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan. Views are personal)

Click here to join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines