Skip to main content
xYOU DESERVE INDEPENDENT, CRITICAL MEDIA. We want readers like you. Support independent critical media.

Modi in Israel: The Emperor's New Clothes

What did India really gain from this trip?
Modi in Isreal

Image Courtesy : V Arun Kumar

Israel has done a masterpiece of political plays enacting the long planned visit by Narendra Modi. It was the first one of an Indian prime minister and it was to show to its own population and to the entire world that repeated warnings about Israel’s growing international isolation are untrue.

Modi has been treated to glamorous ceremonies, military line ups, heartwarming encounters, Israel’s safest suite, Gujarati food and lots of hugs. It paid off: The Indian government is elated, the mainstream media has had many curiosities to report on.

Israel is pleased as well. Modi’s visit has legitimised its policies of racial discrimination, occupation, and ghettoisation - today the world’s only apartheid regime. A long sought for achievement. Israel has been awarded the status of ‘strategic partner’ and has gained further access for its corporations to public contracts and India’s market.

Dani Dayan, settler leader and Israeli ambassador to the UN, gloated with delight on twitter “While India tightens its ties w/Israel, this guy @AliAbunimah believes a letter by a bunch of anti-Israelis will bother us.” He forgot to mention in his tweet commenting on a New York cultural boycott initiative that since 2014 Israel dedicates ever growing amount of money, an entire task force of intelligence services, PR experts and diplomats plus an entire ministry in a failing attempt to fight the growing movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel that campaigns to end its occupation and apartheid against the Palestinian people. He bypassed as well that in the same days of Modi’s visit and in response to the BDS movement, the South African ruling party has adopted a motion to downgrade its embassy in Israel.

The question on how to build an effective and broad based BDS movement in India and strengthen the existing efforts for cultural and academic boycott is getting ever more urgent. There is evident common ground between the Palestinian freedom struggle against Israeli apartheid and Indian movements struggling for social and environmental justice and a secular India. How can we join these struggles?

In order to be able to build these ties of solidarity, it is key to first understand the nature and direction of Indo-Israeli relations that have exponentially grown since the opening of diplomatic relations in 1993. The ‘India and Israel Joint Statement’ issued at the end of Modi’s visit is a good indicator showing the state of affairs after 25 years of intense Israeli efforts to penetrate India’s military forces and civilian markets.

Pending further analysis of the various documents signed, here are some initial considerations.

1. Cultural and ideological ties

The furthering of these ties – or advancing the ‘Brand Israel’ project – has been the key effort made by Israel during this trip.

Israel is well aware that in times of growing isolation elsewhere it cannot lose the opportunities offered by the ideological alliance with the hindutva and the BJP. The idea of a hindu nation comes as a reflection of Israel’s vision of a Jewish state and Israeli propaganda constructs around this a history of ‘natural’ and ancient alliance. So final declaration starts underlining that “throughout history, the Jewish Communities have always had a home in India and have been treated with warmth and respect”. They forget that this was as well the case in North Africa and West and Central Asia, including in Palestine – until Zionism came to expel Palestinians from their land. But foundational myths are by definition not to be questions by facts.

Israel wanted to show a ‘new face’ to India. Forget apartheid, occupation and even the anti-terrorism mantra was really only on the agenda on India’s request. Israel wanted to be seen for ‘making the desert bloom’, the flowers it grows and anything else that makes you forget its war crimes.

To promote the government funded ‘Brand Israel’ project, both prime ministers agreed to systematise existing university cooperation through the establishment of a Joint Research Grant Programme for Higher Education. This is complemented by what Israeli newspaper Haaretz termed a “campaign to lure Bollywood producers to film in Israel”.

The objective is clear: use this moment to create a cultural hegemony in India, ensuring the Indian public ignores, or better justifies, Israeli apartheid and war crimes and identifies with the Israeli culture of supremacy, discrimination, exclusion and continuous repression and warfare 

2. Water cooperation:

This has been hailed as one of the huge achievements and was the single issue the Israeli propaganda machine was focusing on to rebrand its image. However, unfortunately nothing about this cooperation is fundamentally new.

The MoU on a National Campaign for Water Conservation in India signed during the visit is built on the water cooperation agreement of 2015. As well the MoU including Uttar Pradesh on Water Utility reform is a rehash of the contracts already existing since 2012. Since then Israeli national water corporation Mekorot aims to install pre-paid water meters in the state. This ostensibly to prevent waste of water. Reality around the world has proven that such meters are a highly efficient tool to prevent access to water and sanitation to the poor and pave the way to water privatisation.

The main outcome of this water cooperation is to open up access to huge Indian government contracts for Israeli companies, such as cleaning of the Ganges River. Considering that the only experience with large rivers Israel has in the area it controls is the Jordan River, which it has turned into a sewage pit, would there not be other partners that could be found for this? What would have been wrong with the Danish companies that applied for the job, if India really does not want to give the public money for these contracts to its own corporations?

The Israeli experience of water conservation seems equally unhelpful for India. Israel has ensured that 98% of Gaza’s water is today unusable, systematically steals Palestinian water resources and per capita consumes more water than any European state. Israeli water apartheid that offers water as an exclusive item for those of the right ethno-religious category should not serve as a model for India.

3. Agricultural cooperation

The Three Year Work Program in Agriculture 2018-2020 signed during the visit extends an existing program that started in 2008 as the Indo-Israel Agriculture Action Plan through which the so-called ‘Centres of Excellence’ have been established. There are over a dozen of such centres all over India already and it is still unclear what benefit they have brought to the Indian farmers at large.

In these Centres, Israel ostensibly transfers agro-tech knowhow to India regarding the cultivation of Mangoes - and one wonders if it is not Israel that can learn from centuries if India's experience. 

4. Science and technology, including cyber technology

The MoU on a bilateral science and technology fund signed during the visit is not bringing any novelty either. Since 2005, the India-Israel Initiative for Industrial R&D (i4RD) exists and the call for proposals under the 2017-2020 framework for innovation technology is already out since long.

Worth noting may be the particular focus on cyber technology and the importance given to “enhanced dialogue between their national cyber authorities and [...] their commitment to expand and accelerate their cooperation in this sphere including laying a mutual roadmap for its implementation.”

Many Israeli IT and cyber 'security' companies are direct offsprings of Israeli military technology and startups run by retired military officers that are allowed to convert and exploit the knowhow and technology from the Israeli army for their private business. The Israeli state promotes these startups abroad and with this ensures revenues for the national economy and other more in-kind returns from their services 

Cyber and surveillance companies with origins in the Israeli military, such as Checkpoint (sic!), Amdocs, Verint and Narus, are having already a bonanza in India's market of telecommunication and internet users. Amdocs has about 1000 employees in its office in Pune – twice as many as in Israel. Narus has large scale contracts with Reliance and Sify Technology. Amdocs, Verint and Narus have all been already caught up in large scale spy scandals across the world. A recent article in the Times of Israel details how Verint technology “enables governments, secret police to eavesdrop on citizens, arrest dissidents and spread fear”.

India’s offer to Israel to be the “Partner Country” for the annual Technology Summit to be held in India in 2018 may bring even more of these skills into the country.

3. Space and military ties

Though little talked about in the media, it is space cooperation that has been granted the most attention with three new  MoUs.

Israel literally needs India’s physical space to be able to develop space technology and launch satellites. In exchange it ostensibly offers technology transfer. This may be true, or not.

Brazil and its satellite launch station was another place Israel has coveted. This was spearheaded by a MoU between the government of Rio Grande do Sul, a state in the south of Brazil, and AEL Sistemas, a local subsidiary of the Israeli military company Elbit Systems. They aim was the development of a technological park for the construction of military satellites. The deal was cancelled after a sustained civil society campaign based on solidarity with the Palestinian people and the need to end Israeli impunity, but the activists went further: They unmasked AEL Sistemas’ attempt to show up as a Brazilian company to be integrated in the ‘Make in Brazil’ effort. They underlined the fact that Brazilian tax money would be channeled to Israel. Most importantly, they proved that technology transfer would effectively flow from Brazil’s universities to an Israeli company, which, notwithstanding the propaganda, did not have satellite building capacity 

Defense deals interestingly don’t even feature in the final declaration. This did not fit with the Israeli PR blueprint and was as well not necessary. India has already in the first four months of 2017 covered half of the annual revenues of Israeli military exports with contracts to Israeli Aerospace Industries and launched Israel’s first nano satellite.

The structural cooperation between Indian and Israeli defense companies, which allows Israel to cement India’s dependence on its cooperation and binds India to the limits of Israel’s foreign policy, has as well grown dramatically since the beginning of the year. Israel’s Elbit Systems Electro-Optics Elop Ltd (ELOP) has awarded Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) an offset contract for the supply of 10 numbers of CoMPASS Systems for use in the light combat helicopters (LCH) being manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Dynamatic Technologies Ltd (DTL) have signed a cooperation agreement regarding the production, assembly and support of mini UAVs in India, at the Aero India exhibition in Bengaluru. Kalyani Strategic Systems (KSSL), the defence arm of Kalyani Group and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) signed an MoU to incorporate a Joint Venture company in India. During Modi’s visit Cyclone, a subsidiary of Israel-based Elbit Systems, and Mahindra Aerostructures have teamed up to collaborate on the production of aerostructure parts and assemblies. Wipro Infrastructure Engineering on Wednesday announced a strategic alliance with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to make composite aerostructure parts and assemblies in India.

5. Trade

This is probably the only aspect with which Israel may not be too happy. There have been no significant advances in the negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with India, through which Israel aims to increase its exports to India by 25%. Instead an ‘India-Israel CEO Forum’ has been tasked to come up with early recommendations regarding bilateral trade and investment and a promise has been made for negotiations on an agreement for the Protection of Investments in order to encourage bilateral investments from both sides.

Even with this minor lapse over the Free Trade Agreement, Israel can be more than satisfied with the outcome of Modi’s visit. India has not only economically and militarily but as well politically aligned with Israeli apartheid 

What did India really gain from this trip? 

As often, the best things come at the end and so the official Indo-Israeli declaration on the visit concludes with the elements India has been able to pocket in: Israel designates June 21 as International Yoga Day and the two Prime Ministers “recognized the contribution of Indian care-givers in Israel and expressed their intention to reach a mutually agreed-upon arrangement which will provide for their continued arrival in a regulated manner.

India does better without Israel.

* Maren Mantovani is coordinator of international relations for the Ramallah based Palestinian Stop the Wall Campaign and member of the international secretariat of the Palestinian Boycott, Divest and Sanctions National Committee (BNC).

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick.

Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.

Subscribe Newsclick On Telegram