Modi and Netanyahu’s Gujarat Roadshow: India-Israel relationship – Is it Destiny???

It was the BJP government back in 2003 when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon paid his last visit to New Delhi. Since then, there has been a lull period in Indo-Israeli relationship. Again, the ice was broken by a BJP led government in 2014. Today, after 15 long years, India is warmly welcoming Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu on hid 6 days historic visit with First Lady Mrs. Sara Netanyahu and a powerful delegation.

The warm welcome by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu was more than a mere reciprocation what Mr. Modi received on his recent historic visit to Israel. Salute from India to Israel was display of deep bonding and an excellent camaraderie that these two leaders share between them. Whenever, we see the two leaders together, their body language speaks volumes of a relationship that has risen over diplomacy and mutual interests.

There have been many adjectives used to describe the Indo-Israeli relationship. Many recent ones were taunting and funny. The questions were: Is it a one night stand or a long term relationship? Is it flirting, mutual interest or common enemies? So many questions were asked especially in the backdrop of India’s UNGA vote and the Spike ATGM deal.

As soon as the news of India’s UNGA vote spread, there was an unprecedented but a very heartening outcry on social media and otherwise too. Many Nationalists and Social Media users, Independent activists and experts stormed in support of Israel. There were banners by many Hindu Nationalists which read “Country – Israel , Capital – Jerusalem. This was not a symbolic gesture. It appeared to exemplify deep bonds that has developed between the people of both countries, more so in recent times. Bond that knows no compulsions, and is driven by a strong sense of belonging with each other.

India-Israel relationship is not about commercials, cosmetics or optics. The bond that has developed so largely, comes from “Destiny”. Both countries are lead by destiny and even if, we still have not totally come to terms with this unexplored fact, the signs of this belief in ‘destiny’ growing has immense potential and well, on course. It was destiny when around a 100 years ago, Haifa found a new hero in Major Dalpat Singh.

No matter how unbelievable it may sound to a rationalist mind the historical facts would keep singing this tale of valour of how a modern army weilding machine guns were run over by heroes weilding swords and lancers. This valour is still seen in our modern day defence personnel who may have a little handicap on the modern weaponary that they require but their motivation is so tall that it dwarfs such temporary handicaps.

In the India-China war in 1962, it was Israel that had helped us with 81 mm and 120 mm mortars, howitzer artillery guns with ammunition that we desperately needed. In the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Israel delayed sending back the Pakistani F-86 Sabre aircraft that were sent to Israel for maintenance. Not to forget the help Israel offered in bombing Kahuta Nuclear facility located in Pakistan in the year 1981. An indecision, that to me was the biggest blunder that lead Pakistan to flourish as Nuclear Monster that now threatens to be the hub of a Global Nuclear Catastrophe.

The modern Indo-Israel realtionship has grown from such amazing historical events and has evolved into an ever flourishing relationship that has been written by destiny itself. The future of this relationship is going to be space high. India and Israel can together bring in big breakthroughs in every field be it Space Technology, Trade and Commerce, Defence and Aerospace, Farming, Medicine and the most important of them all have been pioneers in leading the world in maintaining world peace and prosperity.

As of now there is a difference between the work cultures of both the countries and that to me is a temporary hindrance and a gift of the lackadaisical approach of the previous regimes in strengthening our functionary processes. However, with the current ruling NDA government lead by Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi, there is a sea of constructive reforms taking place, which has been evident to the world more as demonetisation and GST. These are the more talked about issues but there are 100s and 1000s of other such big and small steps taken by the government to evolve a work culture that is performace and deliverables driven sans any red-tapism.

However, one would like to see this relationship, from whichever spectrum deemed fit but to my eyes I see India and Israel in each others destiny and in time not just the people of both the countires but the entire world will start seeing the same.

Vande Mataram.

Originally Published in Wise Indian Tongue

MODI IN ISRAEL: Bonding the biggest & most beleaguered democracies

Clearly reflecting the impact of the change in Indian policy towards Israel was the chagrin expressed by the Palestinian envoy to New Delhi: “We were shocked…”

A curious Indian stops a passing Israeli backpacker on a New Delhi street. “Tell me,” he asks, “how many Israelis are there?”

“I’m not quite sure,” the backpacker answers. “About six million.”

“No, no no,” retorts the Indian, “not just in New Delhi. I mean all together.”

The humor of this well-known joke reflects a remarkable reality which helps understand the huge enthusiasm this week’s landmark visit of the Indian Prime Minister Nahindra Modi generated, and clearly heralded a “change of gears” in relations between the two countries.

Hindu-Jewish affinity

Each year, over 60,000  Israelis travel to India –many of them “unwinding” in the country after completing military service. Their presence is highly visible across much of the country. Indeed, the “giant shadow” Israelis cast in India is wildly disproportionate to the miniscule dimensions of their homeland. In some outlying locations, Israelis comprise a dominant percentage of foreign visitors. Even in central sites such as the main market in Old Delhi it is not uncommon to see Hebrew signs and encounter merchants able to converse with Israeli customers in fairly fluent Hebrew.

That Israelis seem to feel an instinctive affinity for India should perhaps not be surprising. Its history is virtually devoid of antisemitism. Indeed, the only significant incidents were the Moors’ attack on the Jews in 1524 and the Portuguese persecution of Jews in Cranganore (now the Kerala coast) some years later. Moreover, many Indian Jews achieved great prominence, among them the Sassoons (for whom the Sassoon docks, the Sassoon hospital, and other well-known sites have been named), Dr. E. Moses (a Jewish mayor of Bombay), Lt. Gen. J. F. R. Jacobs (a general in the Indian Army who oversaw the Pakistani Army’s 1971 surrender in Bangladesh and later served as governor of Goa and Punjab), Nissim Ezekiel (a poet/leading Indian literary personality), and Dr. Abraham Solomon Erulkar (the personal physician/friend of Mahatma Gandhi).

Dispersing ideo-political cloud of “post-colonial” prejudice

However, Indo-Israeli relations were not always characterized by such warmth.

On the political and diplomatic fronts, the two nations were largely estranged for the four decades following their independence in the late 1940s. Thus, although India recognized the State of Israel in 1950, the then-ruling Congress Party eschewed full diplomatic relations, siding with the Palestinians and denouncing what many in its ranks termed the “Zionist enterprise” as an imperialist creation of Western colonial powers.

Additional factors also weighed against close and cordial bilateral bonds:  New Delhi’s fear of antagonizing its large Muslim population; pressures from the Islamic world, India’s major source of energy; the fate of the many Indian workers in the Gulf States, and the anti-Israeli attitude of the non-aligned movement, in which India was a leading member.

Moreover, in terms of strategic allegiances, an additional rift between the two states existed: Israel aligned itself firmly with the United States, while India, then traditionally suspicious of American foreign policy, opted for close links with the Soviet Union. The significant disparity between the two countries hardly boded well for mutual cooperation between them. However, since the early 1990s, with the fall of the Soviet bloc and the accelerating liberalization of the Indian economy, considerable changes began to take place, bringing with them a marked convergence of Indo-Israeli interests.

The culmination of this process took place in 1992, when full diplomatic relations were established. Since then, a burgeoning relationship has blossomed, whose vigor, cordiality and durability have taken both its proponents and its opponents by surprise.

Removing the reticence

The establishment of full diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and New Delhi allowed the underlying Indo-Israeli affinity to express itself. Yet, until the Modi government came to power there has been a perceptible reticence, or at least reserve, on the part of India with regard to its relationship with Israel.

One particular sore point was India’s consistent support of anti-Israel resolutions in international forums, such as the UN. One commentator characterized the Israeli perception in the following terms: Israel has long complained that India treats it like a mistress: glad to partake of its defense and technology charms, but a little embarrassed about the whole thing and unwilling to make the relationship too public.”

But with the rise to power of the Modi government, this restraint is beginning to fade discernably, and India has ceased to support a number of motions of censure against Israel in several UN bodies. Clearly reflecting the impact of this change was the chagrin expressed by the Palestinian envoy to New Delhi, at India’s decision not to support a resolution condemning Israel: “We were shocked. The Palestinian people and the leaders were very happy with the UN resolution, but the voting of India has broken our happiness.

Indeed, Modi’s effusively warm physical embrace of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he descended from the plane that brought him to Israel, seems to have unequivocally melted away any residual reticence that might have remained.

Modi’s landmark visit

The visit of Indian Prime Minister Modi is undeniably a landmark event of potentially historical proportions. Attesting to this is the virtually unprecedented attention he has been given by the media and the public in Israel—far beyond that accorded most visiting heads of government.

As the first Indian premier to visit the Jewish State, Modi has unabashedly cast aside any restraint in forging future relations with Israel. Indeed, despite his country’s heavy reliance on oil from the Middle East (or “Western Asia” as the Indians tend to call it)—chiefly Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran—Modi appears to have come to the conclusion that India has more to gain from throwing in its lot with Israel than with the Arab States, who seem to consistently lend their support to India’s rival, Pakistan.

Two of Modi’s decisions on this trip—perhaps more symbolic than substantive—seem to distil out the essence of the new Indian approach to Israel: The one, political; the other, humanitarian.

The first was the Indian PM’s decision not to include the customary visit to Ramallah, made by virtually all visiting senior statesmen to maintain the appearance of scrupulous even-handedness in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Landmark visit (cont.)

Thus despite the fact that the Indian government continues to declare its ongoing support for the “Palestinian cause” there can be no glossing over the implicit message in Modi’s decision to skip—some might say, snub—the Palestinian Authority by excluding any meeting with any of its senior representatives.

In this, he showed commendable courage in flouting the bonds of the constrictive conventions of political correctness—and the willingness to break from past patterns, which bodes well for the independent development of bilateral relations in the future.

The other defining event was Modi’s decision to visit  Moshe (Moish) Holtzberg, the boy whose parents,  Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, were murdered in a 2008  attack on the Chabad center in Mumbai by an Islamist terrorist group based in Pakistan. The attack was one of a dozen carried out throughout the city in late November, 2008, that left 164 dead and at least 308 wounded.

In making this moving gesture, Modi not only showed a laudable sensitivity on a personal level, but also underscored the common threats/enemies faced by both countries and the joint perils that menace both Israelis and Indians.   

So although the visit included a dizzying array of sites and installations, highlighting  Israel’s capabilities and achievements in culture, technology, agriculture, and security it was these two events—resolute moral clarity on the one hand and human empathy on the other—that imparted a distinctive quality to the visit—making it one of the most memorable in years.

Indeed, as one scholar of Indo-Israeli ties, Souptik Mukherjee, pointed out:  “While the visit has many dimensions, the most important aspect is not the joint development of arms, not the prospect of free trade agreement but rather the shared values and historical ties.” 

Marrying “Make in India” with “Make with India”

The visit also produced some interesting rhetorical innovations.  

In September 2015 Modi launched his “Make in India” initiative to encourage foreign corporations to manufacture their products in India.  To date it appears to be an impressive success, with India emerging as the top destination globally for foreign direct investment, surpassing the United States and China!

In his effusive welcoming address on Modi’s arrival, Netanyahu  mentioned  Modi’s “Make in India” project and added  a twist, suggesting  an additional project: ”Make with India” in which both countries, would exploit the synergies of Indo-Israeli cooperation and engage in joint ventures across a range of civilian and military fields.

Given the huge nascent consumer demand in India, its burgeoning middle class, the daunting security challenges it faces from both state and non-state actors innately hostile to Israel as well, there is little doubt that both formulae—Israeli manufacturing plants in Israel, and joint Indo-Israel projects in either country—offer almost boundless prospects.

Referring to ongoing cooperation in the field of space, Netanyahu underscored–with a touch of hyperbole—the almost limitless opportunities a marriage of “Make in India” and “Make with India” could create.  He recalled: I remember what you told me in our first meeting – when it comes to India and Israel relations, the sky is the limit. But now, prime minister, let me add [that] even the sky is not the limit. We are also cooperating in space.”

A personal sense of vindication

While the Modi visit and the surge in Indo-Israeli ties is an historic event for the Jewish State at a national level, it is for me, at a personal level, a gratifying vindication of many years of my prior efforts.

With all due (im)modesty, I was—to the best of my knowledge—the first Israeli to write, in detail, about the strategic importance of India’s international ascendency for Israel.

Almost two decades ago, in early 1999, I published a policy paper, together with a prominent Indian scholar, the late Prof. M. L. Sondhi, one of the original pro-Israeli voices in India. The paper we collaborated on was entitled “Indo-Israeli cooperation as a US national interest. It was a paper that predicted/prescribed much of the later developments between the two countries, across a range of various fields.

We saw the resilient nature of the democratic governance of the two countries, which straddle a vast area of unbroken tyranny, as an important element in bolstering the bilateral bond between the two nations.

The durability and sustainability of democratic governance in both Israel and India should not be taken for granted. Indeed, it should be recalled that both countries’ democracies have faced serious challenges that could well have been conducive to more authoritarian forms of government. Both India and Israel are countries ringed by hostile enemies; the societies in both countries include potentially fractious and rivalrous ethnic groups, creating fertile grounds for internal strife. Both have weathered the trauma of political assassination and external wars on their borders. Yet despite these severe challenges, the commitment of both countries to democratic governance, societal pluralism and official respect for religious diversity have never wavered.

An idea whose time has come…

Significantly, one of the areas which we identified as being of particular potential was that of cooperation in the naval sphere, especially in regard to security in the Indian Ocean, predicting that, in light of the specter of a potential non-conventional threat, it would become an increasingly important theatre of operations for Israel. This has indeed proved true in light of Iran’s nuclear program, greatly enhancing its strategic importance for Israel’s navy and especially its submarine arm, which has become a vital component of Israel’s second-strike capability and its deterrence posture vis-a-vis a nuclear rival.

It is, of course, most satisfying to see many of the recommendations which Sondhi and I made come to fruition.

French poet Victor Hugo famously wrote: “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.

This certainly appears to be the case with the flourishing Indo-Israeli nexus. Indeed, Sondhi and I concluded the executive summary of our paper thus: “…it appears that the time is right for Israel to establish a special relationship with the world’s largest democracy, similar to the relationship that it has developed with the world’s strongest democracy. ..[This], is likely to have a vital role in advancing the principles of liberty and pluralism, and insuring regional stability in an extensive and important portion of the world where such principles are under continual siege.”

Surely, then, this is an idea whose time has come.

As Global Chaos Increases, India and Israel Continue to Grow Closer

In a chaotic world of shifting alliances and the growing unknown of the post Cold War global order, the growing Israeli-Indian partnership continues to grow tighter. MK Avi Dichter, chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee met with India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, Mobashar Jawed Akbar in New Dehli Tuesday night.

Ditcher said the following on Facebook about the meeting:

“We spoke about bilateral ties between India and Israel. He expressed a desire and hope that ties between us will develop not just along financial lines, but in a deeper way as well, with an emphasis on deep mutual understanding between Israelis and Indians. The Deputy Minister emphasized during the talk that despite the profound differences between the two countries in population size and land area, nevertheless they still see building closer ties as being very important, and plan to advance the process in this regard. Later today we met again at an international conference for fighting terrorism to which I was invited to speak, a conference Indian has hosted for the last three years.”

Micha Gefen of Israel Rising stated in an article published in December:

“With a billion people in India, making it the largest democracy in the world, Israel finds a partner that has no in built nor cultural hint of anti-Semitism (Jews have been living in India for 2000 years) and fights against the same past and present enemies as itself.  Through technology and military partnerships as well long time cultural connections the two countries are set to impact the globe way beyond their regions.  It is the ultimate partnership that will shake the global order currently controlled by the US, Britain, EU, China, and Russia.” 

With East Asia on the brink of war, the EU unraveling, and the Middle East ever more chaotic, the Israel-Indian alliance is creating a potential for real stability.



Hindu Temples To Hebrew Lamps: Thoughts On Hanukkah By A Hindutvaite

It is a Hindu temple run by a Telugu community in San Francisco.

Hindu temple in San Fransisco
Hindu temple in San Fransisco

Two things strike me.

In many places, the temple administration has put out posters – ‘as per city requirement’ – asking the devotees to vacate temple premises and all halls by 8pm. I ask my host and dear friend Thirumalairajan about this notice.

The Christian neighbourhood found the temple and its activities a disturbance, and even now try to curb their activities, he says.

Even bringing a temple here was tough, with all kinds of objections being raised, explains Sundaresh, another longtime friend accompanying me.

Then, Thirumalairajan says gently, invoking suspense, “Wait till you see who had laid the foundation stone for the art hall of this temple.”

The marble slab stone says that the ground-breaking ceremony was performed by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan on 15 September 1985.

The next day, I stand before a closed building, Berkeley Vedanta Center. I had always longed to visit this centre, and had read previously about how the centre here had come to be.

Marie Louise Burke (Sister Gargi) in her detailed biography about Swami Ashokananda, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, had explained the stiff opposition Berkeley Vedanta Center had faced from the local population.

In 1938, Vedanta Society had obtained approval from the Berkeley Planning Commission for buying and remodelling a house. However, objections began to be raised soon thereafter. A wealthy and influential real estate businessman, Sherman, spearheaded the campaign against the ‘diabolic intrusion of a Hindu church upon the town of Berkeley’.

In May 1938, Berkeley City Council withdrew its affirmation and asked the planning commission for further investigation.

At the hearing, there were only five speakers in favour of the centre. The opposition consisted mainly of influential property owners and wealthy businessmen who were religiously and racially opposed to India.

After two hours of deliberation, the commission found nothing detrimental in the proposal, but referred it back to the city council.

The main drama unfolded on 20 June at 7:30pm in a packed, emotionally-charged hall. Missionary misinterpretations of Hinduism meant that Vedanta Society lost. They had to be content with the knowledge that they had the support of 437 citizens of Berkeley. Undaunted, they strived and looked for a new location and, again, fought battles in the city council sessions.

One of the supporters of the centre, Mrs Martin, recorded in her diary that the attorney for the opponents ‘made pornographic insinuations during the meeting …and …put forth the immorality charges against the Vedanta Society and Hinduism in general’.

During the session, the opponents ‘read out at length and in scandalized tones Sri Krishna’s life with the Gopis’. A principal of a girls’ school ‘circulated a story that there was a ship in the harbor to take young girls to India to be sold into slavery.’

It took a tremendous amount of courage, persistent effort and ceaseless clearing of the cobwebs of colonial missionary lies to win the case at last.

The Vedanta Center at Berkeley was opened for the first time on 22 October 1939. In the same state of California, 66 years after the founding pioneers of the centre faced accusations and insinuations, Hindu parents in 2005 would face similar accusations and insinuations – this time in the California textbook society case. Hindu students and parents would testify to mostly non-Hindu and significantly unsympathetic authorities, clearing the same cobwebs of propaganda against their culture and religion.

With the Berkeley Vedanta Center closed, my friend Sundaresh says that we should visit the museum at the Mission Center at San José.


San José Mission museum was established by missionaries who accompanied the Spanish military. The Christianising mission of the missionaries went hand in hand with the colonisation of the land where once the Native American tribes lived.

Sundaresh picks a book from the museum book shop and hands it over to me. He says he has already read it, and recommends it to me. The book titled Life in a California Mission is actually the journals of Jean Francois de la Perouse, a French man.

I flip through the pages of the book. It details the way the local Native American tribes were treated inside the mission. He calls the mission’s evangelical enterprise resembling a ‘slave plantation’.

When the Spanish arrived 225 years ago, there were aborigines who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time, now known to anthropologists as Ohione.

Back then they organised themselves into small independent communities. At least fifty such communities were flourishing. They had musical instruments. They danced to their Deities in an altered state of consciousness. An exhibit showed body pigments which they used to apply on their bodies or to their sacred objects with water. I would have said it is the holy ash and vermilion that one finds by the side of every roadside Hindu altar.

We walk inside to look at the exhibits. But this book helps one decode the exhibits like the Hadith helps one understand Quranic verses. For example, the exhibit says almost benignly that ‘once baptized, the Indians could no longer leave the mission community without permission since the Fathers viewed baptism as a spiritual commitment to change from the old ways.’

However, the journal of La Perouse gives an entirely different picture:

… the moment an Indian in baptized the effect is is the same as if he had pronounced a vow for life. If he escapes to reside with his relations in the independent villages, he is summoned three times to return; if he refuses, the missionaries apply to the governor, who sends soldiers to seize him in the midst of his family and conduct him to the mission, where he is condemned to receive a certain number of lashes with the whip.

The hopes of these Native Americans were raised with gifts from Spain, and then they were trapped through baptism and their old ways destroyed. No wonder the missionaries called these Spanish goods ‘bait and means of spiritual fishing’.

The converted ‘Indians’ kept within the mission compounds had to labour. Their women produced food for the mission. The men cultivated the land and took care of the cattle, effectively becoming cowboys of the mission.

Murals in the exhibition show a peaceful, serene co-existence. I look at the calm faces of native women who are shown preparing meals.

And I read this from the ‘journals of La Perouse’:

Women are never whipped in public, but in an enclosed and somewhat distant place that their cries may not excite a too lively compassion, which might cause men to revolt. The latter, on the contrary, are exposed to the view of all their fellow citizens that their punishment may serve as an example.

The Guardian article on the proposed canonisation of Junípero Serra, the mission founder, provides even a darker dimension to the way Native American women were treated inside the walls of the mission:

When Native American women were caught trying to abort babies conceived through rape, the mission fathers had them beaten for days on end, clamped them in irons, had their heads shaved and forced them to stand at the church altar every Sunday carrying a painted wooden child in their arms.

Even in the exhibition reading through the texts, one can discern the horrors of the mission’s history neatly concealed. An exhibit says, Mission mayordomo Jose Maria Amador described an Indian named Formo, who was punished for coming to Mission San Jose to “conduct dances and diabolical undertakings for our Indians”.

I can picture that shaman who considered his own spirituality in no way inferior to the spiritual claims of the missionaries and came in a spirit of sharing and mutual respect. Seldom would he know that the God of the missionaries was the God of inquisition who commands burning at stake the pagans and infidels.

Another exhibit informs tangentially that measles killed the natives and reduced their population strongly. However, the exhibit which talks about the measles epidemic and decimation of Native Americans practically jailed inside the mission, actually glorifies Father Narciso Duran, who defended ‘the mission system with great eloquence.’

Another exhibit unintendedly reveals something horrible. The general inventory of St Joseph’s Church (1850) in the mission includes “1 more (cross) with no staff of varnished, with a crucifix of gilt metal in half-relief, for (funerals of) the deceased infants.’ No prize for guessing which infants’ deaths needed such regular supply of crucifixes of gilt that the exhibit speaks with no remorse or guilt.

An exhibit merely informs me that the mission at its peak extended itself over thousands of acres. And that is not providential, as missionaries would love for us to believe. In his exhaustive introduction to the journals, author Malcolm Margolin points out that “the severing of the Indians’ linkage to the land was not just an accidental byproduct of missionary activity; it was consciously done, part of the missionary policy of ‘civilizing’ the Indians.”

“Civilizing the Indian can only be achieved by denaturalizing them,” said Fermín Lasuén, another prominent missionary at the mission. That Lasuén belonged to the Franciscan order is an interesting paradox for Hindus like me who love to eulogise St Francis of Assisi as a Christian saint with ecological sensibility. However, the point is that such ‘denaturalizing’ of Native Americans at once provided the mission with slave labour and vast land resources.

The entire exhibition is an exercise in presenting a sanitised version of a system that could definitely be called the prototype of Auschwitz.

As I come out, there stands majestically the statue of a monk with fierce merciless eyes. Under the statue is the name Fray Junípero Serra.


The Museum of Jewish Heritage at New York had its second floor closed on the day of my visit. There was, however, an exhibition running ‘Seeking Justice: Leo Frank Case revisited’. The exhibition is about how race tensions, social dynamics and an ever-present anti-Semitism, all came together in the sensational murder case of 13-year-old Mary Phagan in Georgia in 1913.

After the court verdict found Leo Frank, superintendent of the factory and a Jew, guilty of the murder of the girl, a mob lynched him to death after abducting him from the jail. Decades later in 1982, it was found that Leo Frank was not guilty. The exhibition shows how a section of the media used terms such as ‘big money’ to refer to Jews who were accused of trying to help free Leo Frank.

The Jewish Heritage centre has lessons for Hindus in the United States and elsewhere. When I saw the multimedia panel showing the various sections of the Jews, the orthodoxy, reform school, Zionist socialists, secular humanists and Zionists, I understand how to manage the differences among Hindus even as Hindu activism works for all Hindus irrespective of his or her political stand, even if they are diametrically opposite to Hindutva.

Another panel that strikes me is the commitment of Jews to justice. One finds them supporting the suffering people in Africa, and also at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the US.

The Leo Frank event shocked the Jews in the US and sensitised them to the dormant anti-semitism lurking in the American psyche. It also resulted in the launch of Anti-Defamation League that fights against not only anti-semitism but also all forms of prejudices and hatred.

As victims of centuries of hatred and prejudice, Jews have often found themselves at the forefront in fighting for the justice of other persecuted communities in the world.

Days later, I stand before the gates of Temple Ohabei Shalom in Boston along with Ravi Shankar, the editor of a famous Tamil literary webzine It is a reform Jewish temple.

Here I see another notice in front of the temple door. I now understand why Prof Nathan Katz spoke of the significance of Israel – ‘when push comes to shove, Jews will always have Israel to look at, and that is the significance of Israel’.

A smiling face opens the door and lets us in. Bill McCarthy, who is the executive director at the temple (also adjunct Professor of Mathematics at Wentworth Institute of Technology) kindly takes us to the main temple. He is eager to see us two Hindus enthusiastic about the Jewish temple. Having returned to Judaism, he may not be completely at ease with the orthodoxy, but that does not make him hate the orthodoxy. He has preferred the reform synagogue, which is much closer to his spiritual nurture.

For me, that is another lesson learnt, despite my own tradition celebrating diversity, I have had prejudices against orthodoxy in my tradition.

I marvel at the wonderful stained glass art work around the synagogue and ask him about it. He explains. Particularly striking is one panel. It relates to what is known in Jewish history as the Maccabean Revolt. When Antiochus IV tried to impose his own religion on Jews and defiled the Temple of Jerusalem, Jews started a guerrilla war on the occupying forces and, after years, they freed Jerusalem.

The temple was then in ruins. When they started cleaning up, they found a small cruse of oil. Though the oil was in little quantity, it was miraculously lighting up the lamp for eight days. It was only after they prepared fresh oil that the lamp went out. Today, this is celebrated as Hanukkah – the Jewish celebration of light.

The panel shows the oil lamp as well as the Maccabean fighter. McCarthy explains that it shows both the aspects – the light – the Divine Grace and also the valour – the brave faithful fighter, and both are complementary.

I recall a very similar event in the history of Madurai. It was only after the Vijayanagar Empire repulsed the Islamist advances and secured the Tamil land from further Islamist invasions that the temples were re-opened. After 48 years, when the temple of the Goddess which was camouflaged from desecration by a stone wall was reopened, they found the oil lamp still burning, giving out light miraculously.

Whether it is the temple of Jerusalem in the first century BCE or the temple of the Goddess in Madurai in medieval times, the lamp that glows through the dark times of expansionist monocultural oppressions is the lamp of human divinity and diversity.

Whether it is the anti-Semitic persecutions that Jews faced as in Leo Frank’s case, the genocidal wrath of missionaries which the Native Americans faced, the anti-Hindu hate prejudice which the Hindus faced at Berkeley, or which the Hindu parents face today in the California textbook case; through all these dark, shameful phases of human prejudice, the lamp still burns brightly and gives light.

It is this light that unites the lamp of the fish-eyed Goddess and the oil lamp of Jerusalem across space, time and cultures.

Originally published in Swarajiya.


Israeli Company Moebius Medical Signs Deal With India’s Sun Pharma

Moebius Medical

Moebius Medical based in Israel has signed an exclusive global licensing deal with India’s Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.  The deal  involves the development of MM-II, a novel pharmaceutical candidate geared for the treatment of pain in osteoarthritis. According to Israel21C “MM-II is a non-opioid product that leverages the physical properties of proprietary liposomes to lubricate arthritic knee joints, to reduce friction and wear, and pain in the joints.”

Moebius Medical CEO Moshe Weinstein said, “The fact that our novel technology was conceived in Israel and developed within the RAD Biomed Accelerator, confirms the unique quality of the country’s biotechnology ecosystem. In fact, our technology was borne from the multidisciplinary cooperation between leading professors from three of Israel’s most prestigious research institutions: Prof. Yechezkel Barenholz of the Hebrew University, Prof. Izhak Etsion of the Technion Institute, and Prof. Dorit Nitzan of Hadassah Medical Center. I would especially like to thank Prof. Barenholz for his ongoing support of the company, together with Dr. Yaniv Dolev, whose vision and leadership in the company helped bring this partnership to fruition.”

MM-II is an intra-articular biolubricant injection.  The product is being developed to provide symptomatic relief of mild-to-moderate osteoarthritis pain. MM-II is based on patent-protected technology licensed by Moebius Medical from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Technion Israel Institute of Technology and Hadassah Medical Center.

Sun Pharma Global Head of Business Development Kirti Ganorkar said, “Our agreement with Moebius Medical for an osteoarthritis product is a part of our effort to build a branded product pipeline and enrich our global portfolio for pain products. We are encouraged to further develop MM-II and hope to bring a new innovative treatment to patients suffering from osteoarthritic pain.”

The agreement stipulates that Sun Pharma will fund further development of MM-II, and undertake its global commercialization. Moebius Medical has already completed a first-in-man clinical study at Hadassah Medical Center. The trial demonstrated the product’s quick action and potentially better results and relative safety for alleviating osteoarthritis pain as compared to Hyaluronic Acid injection.

Moebius Medical will conduct the requisite pre-clinical studies, and will be responsible for product development and manufacturing until the end of Phase-II studies. Mumbai based Sun Pharma will assume responsibility for further clinical studies, regulatory submissions and product commercialization.


Israel’s Experience and Technologies Can Help Transform Agriculture in India

Originally Published in FirstPost in November.

Over the last 10 years, I have had the good fortune of meeting hundreds of small-scale farmers all over India. I came to appreciate their hard work, eagerness to progress, and the difficult physical and economic environment in which they work.

Farmers bitterly complain about these hardships, but they always light up when I mention that I am Israeli. Even in the remotest of villages, farmers are somehow well aware and appreciative of Israel’s agricultural achievements. Unfortunately, however, very few of those who adore Israel’s technologies also use them in their own farms. A tremendous potential therefore remains largely unfulfilled.

Indian agriculture has made incredible progress over the last few decades, but it needs to undergo a deep transformation. It must make more efficient use of scarce water resources, lest they deplete. It must make more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers, lest they continue to pollute water and sicken children. It must make more judicious use of pesticides, lest they continue to poison farmers. And it must diversify.

Israel’s experience and its technologies can help, so the growing agricultural cooperation between the two countries is heartening. Several Indian states have opened Centres of Excellence with the Israeli government. Cooperation in the private sector is also growing.

Last week, an Israeli business and academic delegation, led by President Reuven Rivlin, was hosted by President Pranab Mukherjeein Agro Tech 2016 in Chandigarh. President Rivlin declared that “when Israeli companies and Indian farmers meet, they can mage magic happen”. In a seminar organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry and Tel Aviv University, called ‘Digital Pathways in Indian Agriculture’, Israeli and Indian scientists and businessmen introduced exciting new technologies with the potential to transform the Indian agricultural landscape.

As exciting as technological innovations are, making them impactful will require a broadening of perspective. Agronomists and plant scientists have made incredible progress in understanding what crops need in order to flourish. Now, we need to develop a similar understanding of what farmers need in order to flourish. Without such an understanding, even the most revolutionary technologies will likely remain unused by the hundreds of millions of smallholders who grow India’s food.

Take drip irrigation, the most famous Israeli agricultural technology. Drip irrigation is proven to deliver the dual benefit of increased production and reduced water, fertilizer and herbicide requirements, exactly what so many Indian farmers need. Why then does the market for drip irrigation, while growing, still represent only a small fraction of Indian farmers?

The answers to this and related questions have to do more with economics than with agronomy, and more with farmers than with the crops they grow. The problem is that finding business models and government policies that can spread improved technologies sustainably has simply turned out to be as difficult a puzzle as developing these technologies in the first place.

It is therefore not for lack of effort or resources that a country that has mastered nuclear and satellite technology is still struggling to replace antiquated farming practices or lift its farmers out of poverty. The challenge is much more complicated than it may seem. And I don’t mean to suggest no programmes are successful. For example, in some states, like Gujarat, drip irrigation has been spreading rapidly in recent years, likely thanks to effective administration of the national drip subsidy programme. But we know too little about what works and what doesn’t and why and when.

We need to direct the same kind of energies that we put into the “crop” aspect of the challenge into the “human” aspect of the challenge. Frankly, it doesn’t help that the majority of India’s brightest and most ambitious young direct their brainpower to the fields of engineering, medicine and information and communication technology, while so few choose to take on the challenge of sustainable rural development (of course, there are wonderful exceptions, but they are too few).

India can surely succeed in transforming its agriculture, and we in Israel are eager to help. Let us begin by recognising the importance of not just the “technical element”, but also the “human element”. Let us build a bi-national, long-term and systematic programme that brings together academia, the public sector and the private sector; engineers, agronomists, plant scientists, social scientists, policy specialists and entrepreneurs. Let us harness the amazing brainpower, entrepreneurship and creativity of our two countries’ young generations, and get them involved. And most importantly, let us not shy away from leaving our offices and our labs and our experimental farms and stepping into farmers’ own fields.

Academia can have a powerful role to play. My own institution, Tel Aviv University, is leading the way by forging alliances with leading Indian universities and working with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to carve new paths forward. We can use these collaborations to create a prestigious programme for outstanding, brilliant young Israelis and Indians to work together in small inter-disciplinary teams, and develop and test, in fields and villages across India, new approaches and models for adapting and disseminating relevant technologies to farmers. Governments can provide support and then scale up and implement those approaches that prove to be effective.

I believe a programme of this kind can radically change the perception of agriculture by young Indians from a thing of the past to a science of the future, and attract bright, dedicated and idealistic students from both India and Israel. These students will forge personal ties that will strengthen our relationship as countries, and achieve something that only they, if anyone, can do: help make Indian agriculture a model for the other emerging economies who are facing similar challenges.