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Israel-India alliance: A recipe for global expansion of Islamophobia

Under the BJP government, India's ties with Israel have moved beyond economic interests to far-right ideological synergy
Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz (L) shakes hands with India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh as he arrives for a bilateral meeting in New Delhi on 2 June, 2022 (AFP)
Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz shakes hands with India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh as he arrives for a bilateral meeting in New Delhi on 2 June 2022 (AFP)

The India-Israel relationship highlights the thin line between principles and interests. India has historically been a political ally against Israel’s colonial occupation of Palestine. Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and other forefathers of the Indian independence struggle challenged the Israeli occupation

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India’s support for Palestinians did not wane even after India officially recognised the state of Israel in 1950. Only after the end of the Cold War and the opportunity for capitalist expansion did India establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992. 

In the following decades, principles were squashed by interests. In 2006, India and Israel signed the Indo-Israeli Agricultural Project to share best practices on increasing crop diversity and productivity, alongside professional training programmes. Bilateral trade began to grow in line with military ties.

Since 2017, just three years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, India has been a strategic partner and co-producer of Israeli weapons, with the two countries conducting joint military drills and hosting police and army exchange visits.

Since Modi entered office in 2014, around 42 percent of all arms exports from Israel have gone to India. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), weapons deliveries to India from Israel increased by 175 percent between 2015 and 2019. The two countries have also expanded their cooperation in cyber-security in recent years.

On the economic front, between 1992 and 2021, bilateral trade soared to $6.35bn in 2021 from just $200m in 1992.

Muslims targeted

Under the BJP government, the strengthening of relations between India and Israel has moved beyond economic interests to ideological synergy. 

The India-Israel alliance has expanded beyond economic cooperation to the sharing of racist, violent practices

The common thread uniting them is far-right nationalism, which calls for the exclusion, if not expulsion, of all others who do not adhere to the exclusivist identity they’ve assigned to the state.

In this context, the figure of the Muslim has become a target of violence in India, while for the Israeli state, Palestinians are an impediment to colonial expansion; for the Hindu nationalists of the BJP, Muslims represent the corruption of a purist Hindu nation. This is a Palestinisation of the Indian Muslims.

The adoption of Israeli tactics has been explicitly promoted by Indian diplomat Sandeep Chakravorty, who in 2019 asserted that Hindus should adopt the Israel model in Indian-occupied Kashmir. It is thus not surprising that in Kashmir, the Indian army uses civilians as human shields, just as Israel does in the occupied Palestinian territories. This illegal practice is internationally condemned. 

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When India in 2019 passed an amendment to the Citizenship Act, offering amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from neighbouring states, a pro-Israel advocacy group called StandWithUs offered its support to the BJP. Israel’s then-consul general for South India, Dana Kursh, also defended the move by saying that “India as a sovereign nation has the right” to enact the amendment.

Racist and violent practices

According to Human Rights Watch, since the BJP came to power, “it has taken various legislative and other actions that have legitimised discrimination against religious minorities and enabled violent Hindu nationalism”. Such institutionalisation of racism has made it possible for Hindu extremists in India and Jewish settlers in Palestine to publicly call for the deaths of Muslims and Arabs, while Hindu and Jewish Israeli extremists enjoy near-total impunity.

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Palestinians in Israel and Muslims in India have been discriminated against, physically attacked and even killed, as security forces not only fail to protect them but at times actively participate in the onslaught. In both states, the judiciary has become an extension of the government’s ideology.

Another area of overlap is home demolitions. Israel routinely demolishes Palestinian homes as a form of collective punishment, leaving thousands of people homeless. In India, the homes of Muslims allegedly linked to recent anti-government protests have also been demolished.

Indeed, over the years, the India-Israel alliance has expanded beyond economic cooperation to the sharing of racist, violent practices, with one often helping to cover for the misdeeds of the other. Meanwhile, their western allies remain bystanders as human rights violations continue to unfold.

On a global scale, with the increasing emergence of right-wing populist leadership, the India-Israel alliance is a dangerous recipe for the worldwide expansion of racism and Islamophobia

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Ismail Patel is the author of “The Muslim Problem: From the British Empire to Islamophobia”. He is also Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Leeds and the Chair of the UK based NGO Friends of Al-Aqsa.