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Why So Many Indians Are Rooting for Israel: The Relationship Between Hindutva and Zionism Today

Tying the two countries together now are not only the geopolitical considerations but the ideological affinity between Zionism and Hindutva with Muslims being viewed as common enemies.

When on May 17 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his appreciation of the 25 countries – identifying them by the emojis of their flags – for “resolutely standing with Israel” and its “right to self-defense against terrorist attacks”, India was not one of them. This upset a large section of the population in the country that has been zealously batting for Israel in the latter’s conflict with Hamas.

“Sir please mention Indian flag too, India supports Israil (sic),” posted one Amit Modi on Twitter.

Santosh Joshi, another Israeli supporter tweeted in the same servile manner: “Sir, add India too, we are family”.

There were also viral pictures of naked Indian children ordering their bodies to form a hexagram of the Israeli flag, in an expression of solidarity with the Jewish country.

Not only the common people, but even some leaders of the ruling BJP were also at the forefront of the support for Israel, most prominent among them Tejasvi Surya, a young member of the Indian Parliament from South India.

Responding to a tweet of an Israeli citizen talking of exhaustion after “spending hours in bomb shelters”, Surya posted: “We are with you, stay strong Israel”.

The wide public support for Israel has set hashtags such as #IndiaWithIsrael, #ISupportIsrael, #IndiaStandsWithIsrael, and #IsrealUnderFire trending in the country over the last week, with tweets and also Facebook posts liked, retweeted, or shared thousands of times. For example, Surya’s tweet was liked around 50,000 times.

However, while Netanyahu may have overlooked the groundswell of solidarity in India, Rony Yedidia-Clein, the In-Charge of Affairs at the Embassy of Israel in India later thanked the people of the country for their support saying it is “a good sign”.

This outpouring of support for Israel doesn’t spring from an understanding of the conflict between Palestine and Israel, nor does it arise from any knowledge of Middle East geopolitics but is reflective of domestic Indian politics currently dominated by Hindutva, a political ideology whose defining feature is antagonism towards Muslims.

Though Indian Muslims are the main target of this hate – many of whom have been lynched in mob attacks in recent years, the latest one on May 17 in the state of Haryana – Muslims in other parts of the world aren’t viewed differently.

More than a party in one of the world’s oldest and tragic conflicts, Palestinians are primarily seen as Muslims, so not entitled to any sympathy. They are “terrorists” who deserve to be crushed. The conspicuous narrative in India is not about championing the rights of dispossessed Palestinians but about Israel’s right to defend itself against “terrorist attacks”.

“Shame on those who support terrorists. Israel has a right to defend itself. In The War Against Terrorism, I and My India Stand With Israel. Good going Israel (sic),” tweeted one Aman Tyagi.

This, however, doesn’t mean that Israelis are good by default. Despite their chequered history, India-Israel relations go back a long way. India recognised Israel in 1950 but established full diplomatic relations only in 1992. Since then the ties between the two nations have grown ever closer.

Interestingly, this warmth in the relations has tracked the growth of Hindutva as a dominant ideology in India. And with the rise to power in 2014 of Narendra Modi, the far-right leader and an aggressive champion of Hindutva, India-Israel relations have further advanced. Modi was the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel in July 2017. He didn’t travel to Ramallah or meet Palestinian leaders as visiting dignitaries often do.

The pictures of him and Netanyahu at Dor Beach with their trousers pulled up at the hem went viral. A signed photo of the two at the beach was later gifted by Netanyahu to Modi. The words on the photo read: “To Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the deepest friendship, on your historic visit to Israel”.

Tying the two countries together now are not only the geopolitical considerations but the ideological affinity between Zionism and Hindutva with Muslims being viewed as common enemies. Deepening the bond further is the fact that both the nations have been in a perennial state of confrontation with Muslims since their founding – Israel with Palestinians and the Islamic world, India with neighbouring Pakistan and in Muslim majority Kashmir, the restive disputed region it administers and claimed in entirety by Pakistan.

The lingering conflict in Kashmir dating back to 1947 mirrors in some aspects the one in Palestine. India also calls the decades-long separatist struggle in Kashmir as “terrorism,” something that makes it relate more to Israel.

But at the level of the government, India has been more balanced in its response to the Israel-Palestine clashes. Speaking at the United Nations Security Council, India’s permanent representative to the UN, T S Tirumurti, refused to toe the Israeli line on the conflict that rocket firing by Hamas had led to clashes.

Tirumurti said that “violence began in East Jerusalem”. He reaffirmed India’s support for Palestine but stayed short of making any direct reference to the status of Jerusalem or the future Israel-Palestine borders. “In conclusion, India reiterates its strong support for the just Palestinian cause and its unwavering commitment to the two-state solution,” Tirumurti said.

But Modi’s supporters and the influential right-wing commentators like Major Gaurav Arya are calling for explicit government support for Israel, arguing Israel has offered support and weapons to India during its past crises.

“When we desperately needed some country to help us, be it in 1971, in Kargil or at Balakot (the occasions when there was war and confrontation with Pakistan), Israel stood by us,” said Major Arya, a former Army officer turned strategic expert and a vocal pro-Israeli supporter, in an interview to a Youtube channel. “Buying weapons and buying oil are two different things. Israel gave us weapons secretly even when we had no diplomatic relations with the country and when America had put sanctions on us.”

Similarly, a right-wing news portal Opindia, India’s equivalent of Breitbart, defended support for Israel by India’s Hindus in a recent opinion piece:

“Israel has stood by India in thick and thin. Israel supports and allows a multi-faith rich democracy like the Hindus of India. What is there to hate?” the piece read adding “Ummah is globally worst in all aspects of human rights against infidels”.

“Those who are left (like Israeli Jews or Indian Hindus) are the real Davids and we Hindus are cheering for them (Israel) as we see them as a hope against global Ummah which in any case has more than 50 countries to call home,” the piece said.

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