The depth of love between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi has few parallels. Many traits unite the current crop of populist, power-hungry, authoritarian strongmen that have been on the rise of late, but few have enjoyed the kind of relationship that has blossomed between Modi and Netanyahu. The two are in a league of their own; conjoined twins some may say, whose friendship is forged through similar racist ideologies and deep dislike of minorities.
Both leaders again expressed their affection for each other yesterday. Netanyahu responded to Modi’s declaration of “eternal” friendship by saying: “Thank you, my friend, Indian PM @narendramodi. I could not agree with you more. The deep connection between Israel and India is rooted in the strong friendships between Israelis and Indians. We cooperate in so many areas. I know our ties will only strengthen in the future!”
Netanyahu’s adoration was prompted by a Modi tweet in which he thanked an Israeli Embassy message on Twitter: “May our ever-strengthening friendship & #growingpartnership touch greater heights.” Replying in Hebrew, Modi said: “Thank you; I wish the great citizens of Israel and my friend @netanyahu a happy Friendship Day. Israel and India have proved their friendship over time. Our ties our eternal and strong. I hope that our friendship will continue to thrive and grow even further.”
The exchange took place as India prepared to more or less annex the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir by revoking its special status. Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist government pushed forward with a hostile move to revoke the part of the constitution that gives Indian-administered Kashmir special status in what is seen as an unprecedented move. It is not unlike Israel’s ongoing attempt to seize the whole West Bank and is just as likely to spark unrest.
Article 370 is sensitive because it guarantees significant autonomy for the disputed territory by allowing the 12 million people who live in Jammu and Kashmir to have their own constitution, a separate flag and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications. India’s decision has been denounced by the former chief minister of the state, Mehbooba Mufti, who is reported by the BBC as saying that the move effectively made India an occupying force. “Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy,” she tweeted, adding that the government’s “unilateral decision” is “illegal and unconstitutional.”
Modi’s decision, which upheld a promise made by his right-wing Hindu nationalist party during its 2019 election campaign, is expected to lead to violence and arrests. Activists on the ground in Kashmir spoke to MEMO of the “total communication blackout since midnight” and reported that the “whole of Kashmir is under strict indefinite curfew.” In recent days, the Indian government has also moved 10,000 troops to what is already one of the most militarised regions in the world and ordered tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave the Himalayan valley.
The newly dispatched soldiers will join the nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers already deployed in Indian-administered Kashmir, where civilian protesters and armed rebels either want freedom for the Muslim-majority Kashmir from India or merger with Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan claim the region of Kashmir in full and have fought two of their three wars over it.
Modi’s plan for India-administered Kashmir has uncanny similarities with the way in which Netanyahu, with a similar right-wing extreme nationalist government, is looking to annex the West Bank. The ideological bond between the extreme version of Zionism represented by Netanyahu and the extreme Hindu nationalism of the Hindutva, represent by Modi, is almost identical: both are political ideologies; both subscribe to the same concept of a far-right ethno-nationalist movement that uses religion to achieve its aims, and both misrepresent history to justify atrocities against minorities in pursuit of an exclusivist and discriminatory political vision.
Hinduvta members, like their ideological counterparts in Israel, speak openly of ethnic cleansing and expelling minority communities: that includes Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Ravidassias and Buddhists in the case of the extremist Hindus, and Christian and Muslim Palestinians in the case of Israel. Their vision is rooted in fascism and white supremacy. Hindutva is identified commonly as the guiding ideology of the Hindu Nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) of which Modi is a member.
A profile of RSS ideology shows that its leaders draw their inspiration from right-wing, fascist European groups and their leaders, including Hitler and Mussolini. Its long-time chief, M S Golwalkar, is said to have openly admired Hitler’s “final solution” and wanted to apply the same approach in India to eliminate the country’s minorities. This makes the strong bond between Modi and Netanyahu even harder to understand.
While the two countries under their current rulers can be said to enjoy an ideological affinity and subscribe to the exclusivist political vision of the far-right, both are also locked in a struggle with a large minority group challenging military occupation and human rights abuse, thus making them allies in ways that are rare on the global stage. Relations between the two countries have never been better. India is now the largest weapons market for the Israeli arms trade; the two countries carry out joint military exercises; and Israel uses the Negev Desert to train Indian soldiers in the tactics of suppressing civilian populations, its expertise learned through the suppression of Palestinians in the Gaza and the West-Bank.
It’s in this regard that Israel, perhaps more than any other right-wing government, has excelled. It is in an enviable position, according to Israeli author Jeff Halper, to “secure insecurity” having had decades of experience suppressing Palestinians. In his 2015 book, War Against the People Halper argues that Israel’s security exports are unmatched due to its ability to develop weapons and techniques for urban warfare, surveillance and intelligence; what Halper calls “full-spectrum domination”. Israel’s success is put down to its knowledge and experience of developing control technologies and battle-tested weapons that have become the “must-have” items in the armoury of every authoritarian dictator facing a restive population. This was demonstrated clearly when Israeli-made Rafael Spice-2000 “smart bombs” were used by the Indian air force in its strike against Kashmiri “terrorists” inside Pakistan in February.
Beyond trade and arms sales, Israel has also found an ally in Modi on the international stage where the Zionist state regularly comes under sharp criticism from the UN and other international bodies. In June, New Delhi’s representative at the global body voted in favour of Israel in a vote to grant consultative status to a Palestinian human rights NGO, which eventually lost its bid to join the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The vote marked an unprecedented stage in relations between the two countries. India’s history in the anti-colonial movement once made it a strong ally of the Palestinian cause. Previous Indian prime ministers, including the country’s founder and revered leader Mahatma Gandhi, opposed Israel, believing it to be a colonial enterprise. The leader of the Indian independence movement against the British was strongly opposed to the idea of a Jewish national home in Palestine, he believed it was an an expression of ethnonationalism that was inimical to the values of secular liberal democracy.
With his embrace of Netanyahu, Modi has turned his back on the legacy of Gandhi and his vision of a secular democracy based on civic nationalism and equality for all, irrespective of race and religion. Indian democracy has indeed taken a serious hit.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.