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Modi's visit to Israel gives Jews in India hope for new era

Indian prime minister's historic visit kindles hope among the country's Jewish community of better recognition

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

Published: July 06, 2017 09:22 AM GMT

Updated: July 06, 2017 10:27 AM GMT

Modi's visit to Israel gives Jews in India hope for new era

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the joint press conference in Beit Aghion, July 4, the official residence of the Israeli prime minister. (Photo by IANS)

The first-ever visit by an Indian prime minister to Israel has kindled hope of better recognition for the tiny Jewish community in India and improved relations between the two countries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was welcomed at the start of his three-day visit, July 4, with an embrace from Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a joint statement delivered July 5, they announced enhanced collaboration across a range of initiatives including development, technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, defense and security.

Religious leaders of some 6,000 Jews scattered across Indian cities in the states of Maharashtra, Delhi, Kerala, Gujarat and West Bengal welcomed the meeting saying it will usher in a new era of collaboration between the countries.

Ezekiel I Malekar, honorary secretary of the Judah Hyam Synagogue in New Delhi, told ucanews.com the visit will help the two countries of "ancient civilizations" to develop more "people-to-people contact" through exchange programs and tourism.

Malekar said the Indian Jews are looking forward to being awarded the status of "religious minority" in the country, which would entitle them to various social welfare schemes and the privilege of establishing and managing their own educational institutions.

"Maharashtra state in India has granted the minority status to Jews but we hope to receive it at a national level," Malekar said.

In Hindu-majority India, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Jains are categorized as religious minorities but not Jews.

Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Israel, a Jewish leader based in Mumbai, expressed his joy that the prime minister, while in Israel, would meet with Moshe whose parents were killed in the 2008 terror attack by Islamic extremists in India's financial capital.

Lubavitch said he hopes the "historical" visit would raise awareness "for a better, more peaceful world."

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Moshe, who was a toddler at the time, survived the attack that killed several Jews and escaped with his nanny to his grandparents' home in Israel.

However, Modi's visit to Israel has disappointed some Indian Christians working for the cause of Palestinians.

During the Cold War, India was a leading member of the Non-Aligned Movement of developing countries and was reluctant to accept Israel as a nation. It was only in 2003 that Ariel Sharon visited the country to became the first Israeli prime minister to visit India. That visit happened when Modi's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party was in power.

However, since 1992, the two countries have cultivated close ties, particularly in the areas of technology and defense.

Modi is making his "historic" visit at a time "when people are thinking of boycotting Israel as it is not willing to come to the discussion table with Palestine for peace negotiations," Samuel Jaykumar of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) told ucanews.com.

"What happened to our commitment to Palestinians?" Jayakumar questioned. "Our prime minister should also have visited Palestine," he added.

The NCCI regularly consults with Palestinian Christians and its officials have visited Palestine in the past to study their problems.

Meanwhile, writing in a comment piece, political scientist Kamal Mitra Chenoy described Modi's visit to Israel as continuing the pattern of marginalizing minorities that he and his pro-Hindu BJP party follows back home.

In reference to Israel's history as a Zionist state and its violence against Palestinians, Chenoy asked, "Why is Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting this brutal, criminal and imperialist country?"

"This is not foreign policy, but a continuation of the communal marginalization of minorities. As an Indian citizen I am aghast. As a secular Jew, I am deeply ashamed," Chenoy wrote.

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