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Indian PM Announces Historic Visit to Israel

Narendra Modi will become first premier to visit the Jewish state, furthering India’s pro-Israel shift

Yair Rosenberg
June 01, 2015
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ottawa, Canada, April 14, 2015. (Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ottawa, Canada, April 14, 2015. (Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images)

In the coming year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will become the first Indian premier in history to visit Israel. He will also travel to Jordan and the Palestinian territories. The move was announced Sunday by Modi’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, and marks yet another recent landmark in Israeli-Indian relations. In September, Modi met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, in the first such meeting in 11 years.

At that time, I noted that Modi’s outreach towards Israel was the culmination of deeper trends within Indian society, a sign of more to come:

Like the elections of leaders like Menachem Begin and Barack Obama, Modi’s meteoric rise embodies many fundamental generational shifts in his country’s political and social fabric. One of these is an increasing identification with Israel as a successful entrepreneurial culture–something India seeks to emulate–and as an ally in the battle against Islamic extremism. At the same time, there is a growing rejection of the traditional narrative that cast the Zionist project as akin to India’s colonial oppressors, which partly underlay the country’s 1975 vote for the infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution at the United Nations. Consequently, where previous Indian governments privately did extensive business with Israel while publicly excoriating it over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the new government rejected a resolution condemning Israel’s conduct during the recent Gaza war.

In the months following the Modi-Bibi rendezvous, India snubbed a U.S. bid in order to sign a lucrative arms contract with Israel, and floated the possibility of moving its U.N. voting policy in a more pro-Israel direction. Modi, who was elected in 2014 with India’s first majority government in 30 years, has long been open about his admiration for Israel. In 2006, while serving as governor of the Indian province of Gujarat, he visited the Jewish state in part to learn how Israeli innovation could help bolster India’s developing economy.

From complementing India’s tech-savvy English-speaking workforce, to exporting to the country much-needed agricultural and defense technologies, Israel is in many ways a natural partner for India. So it is not surprising that the announcement of Modi’s forthcoming visit to Israel—even before a date has been set—made the front page of the Times of India, reflecting the country’s intense interest in the Jewish state.

As the visit draws nearer, expect that enthusiasm to grow.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.