What does Modi's India have in common with Zionist Israel? To find an answer one may begin by pondering their mutual emphasis on a supremacist political position. However, there is more to it than just assertion of elevated stature. Both the countries resort to religious identity to identify the common ground on which they firmly stand. They managed to put forth their respective brand of identity politics from an irrational sphere of self-pride. The two "modern nations", a category they themselves repeatedly used at a recent seminar, finally located their kinship through the trite 20th century nationalist ideology, though from the ionosphere of faith.
There are many points of contact through which India and Israel now realise their economic interests, which are no more than material exchanges in a globalised world as opposed to the obvious overlap in their identities they recently discovered and brought into public attention.
The commonality they identified between Hindutva and Zionism provides for the most interesting setting for a re-examination of the colour and contour of the pseudo-religious nationalism that preside over their respective polity. The two countries that are 4,532 kilometres apart, and has no shared political and religious history, found a way to celebrate their sameness of faith through mere conjectures and fabulations.
Before we collide head on with some of the fragments from the seminar, let us look at the ground zero from where it all started. The site of articulation was the neo-Gothic convention hall of the University of Mumbai and voices representing the two nations and their common nationalist fable were that of Dr Subramanian Swami, a Rajya Sabha member of India, and of Dr Gadi Taub's, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Reportedly, the two nations, in an uncanny moment of aggrandisement of their national selves, found reasons to voice their unity in the most blatantly rhetorical terms.
The talk was staged by a little-known organisation called the indo-Israeli Friendship Association. And to the astonishment of the writer from whose piece this article draws its base material (September 2019 issue of recent issue of Frontline), the association welcomed the high-profile speakers who took turn in explaining the 'similarities between Zionism and Hindutva.'
Writing for one of India's premiere news magazine, Anupama Katakam, clues us in on the ideologically inclined minds that sought to give basis to nationalism, clearly suggesting a turning of the tide between India-Israel relationships, since there had been no prior precedent. The event too was a unique one.
Some 27 years ago, in 1992 to be precise, India first gave recognition to Israel. Before that Israel was nothing but a blank page in the Indian collective consciousness. It was a country to keep a distant from as India was part of the Soviet Bloc.
In a longish piece on an Israeli web portal called Israel Hayom, one gets an account of how the relationship changed in recent times. It first talks about "frostiness", which it claims "was decades long" and goes on to say that "the significant change in India's attitude towards Israel was only been seen in recent years."
Things have warmed up lately and even reached the threshold of enthusiasm and trust between the two nations thereafter. R Chinoy, an Indian scholar explains, "One of the key issues at the time for the nonaligned countries was support for Palestinian self-determination. When we reached the end of the 1980s, the world changed and the Soviet Bloc collapsed. India recognised Israel and established full ties with it."
R Chinoy visited Israel under the auspices of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and by way of referring to friendship between the two countries he said, "It is greater than any temporary political climate."
Especially on the issue of national security, experts from the two countries were increasing cooperation, according to Israel Hayom. Today, Israel-developed smoke-shells "that smell of sewers" are used for crowd control in Kashmir.
There are connections – economic, military and cultural ties – that now bind the two nations together.
Peering into the minds of the two eminent speakers, one gets a glimpse of the strain of tales that that was platted in the name of religious nationalism for the people to savour. And saver they did, as is testified by the writer of Frontline piece, as they spoke the audience experienced an emotional high.
Speaking on Hinduism Subramanian Swami said, "It is a belief system, we use it in our day-to-day activities, and like Zionism, it doesn't believe in conversion." Though India was not a Hindu state, its constitution drew heavily from the religion since article 25, which allows the citizen the freedom to practice any religion, was a Hindu tenet, he argued.
Speaking on Mahabharata, he said, "[A] war was fought over Draupadi. It shows that ancient India gave woman a high status. The constitution said men and women must be treated equally. These are examples of how Hindu text played a role in shaping modern India."
In defence of the "ghar wapsi" movement, Subramanian Swami said "religions that existed in the country were guilty of forced conversion." He claimed that "many people had approached the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to find a way of making them Hindu again."
Gadi Taub, on the other hand, spoke on modern democracy and how it was part and parcel of nationalism. He said, "Modern nationalism is the answer today," and it would lead to a "benign" form of society.
On the relationship between the two countries, he said, "India and Israel have been kept apart for too long, and it was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the countries were allowed to be friends."
Jewish nationalism, or Zionism, has little to do with the ancient Abrahamic faith that is Judaism. Rather, the ideological armature of modern Jewish state in Palestine came via an Austro-Hungarian journalist named Theodor Herzl whose book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), which was published in 1897. He declared that "The Jews who wish for a State will have it."
The dream certainly sprang out the degradation they suffered in Europe over centuries due to Christian intolerance. But envisaging the state in capital "S" certainly bore down on the modern-day Israel whose existence was forced into being in exclusion of the majority Arab population of the land.
In reaction to the event, Apoorva PG, coordinator of the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) National Committee, said, "This is the first time in recent years we are seeing such provocative and supremacist tone of discussion. Israel has been working very hard on Brand Israel, portraying it as a liberal and progressive country. This talk is telling in that at its root Israel remains a country that practises apartheid and is completely supportive of the Hindutva ideology."
It is interesting to note that such exclusionary nationalism cast around the idea of majoritarian populism, which Modi now oversee like the Sivaji of a market-driven India, first made its appearance in Nazi Germany. One can say both Israel and India are heir to Hitler's modern vision where nationalist prejudices came veiled with high-sounding moralism. The only difference, one may conclude, is in the degree of transparency of the veil.