By Arun Srivastava
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India has of course helped India and Israel to normalise their bilateral ties, but more than that it has facilitated Netanyahu to buttress his image back in his country. It is significant that Netanyahu chose to visit India when Israeli people had hit the streets of Tel Aviv demanding his ouster.
From the very beginning Netanyahu knew that a strong relation with India would help him earn laurels and convince his countrymen that he is the only politician who can lead the nation. It was not without reason that he came to India along with the largest business delegation that has ever accompanied an Israeli premier on an overseas tour. He was aware that entering into strategic relationship with an important global power will help him defuse the crisis and erase the stigma of his being corrupt.
A closer look at what he said before embarking on the visit will make his intentions clear. He had said; “we are strengthening ties between Israel and this important global power. This serves our security, economic, trade and tourism interests, as well as many other areas. This is a great blessing for the state of Israel. Indian Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi is a close friend of Israel and of mine and I appreciate the fact that he will accompany me on extensive parts of my visit. On this visit I intend to strengthen bilateral relations even more. This visit is an opportunity to enhance cooperation with a global economic, security, technology and tourism power”.
Netanyahu led a high-profile delegation having 130 businessmen from 102 Israeli companies. Israel will be investing $68.6 million to boost cooperation with India in tourism, technology, agriculture and innovation over a period of four years.
Even while Netanyahu was in India, protestors were on the streets in Tel Aviv. They were objecting to the design to bring a legislation to protect Netanyahu from investigation. The legislation would block Israel’s police from publishing findings and issuing recommendations to the prosecutor’s office on indictments related to public officials. His critics allege that the changes would only serve to keep the public in the dark on criminal investigations of Netanyahu. Netanyahu is suspected in two corruption cases; first, known as Case 1000 and second Case 2000.
Incidentally, police has already interrogated Netanyahu on the suspicion of receiving illicit gifts worth thousands of dollars from Arnon Milchan, an Israeli billionaire. Netanyahu has been questioned “under caution” in both the grafts and the Mozes cases and obviously the police initiative suggests that this time there is suspicion of a criminal offence. Corruption scandals are nothing new for Netanyahu. For the past five years, he has been mired in allegations ranging from the double billing of travel expenses to receiving illegal contributions.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi accorded a red-carpet reception to Netanyahu, but the fact cannot be ignored that Netanyahu has lost much of his image and the support amongst the Israeli people. His coalition is beginning to fragment. Even his coalition partners are not too willing to defend him. “We asked the ministers to defend the Prime Minister, but each of them is making his own political calculations,” observed David Bitan, the coalition chairman.
Modi’s reception to Netanyahu also makes his claim of zero tolerance towards corruption suspect. How could a person like Modi extend such a welcome for Netanyahu? Just recall his campaign against former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Modi was aware that a person like Manmohan Singh would not stoop so low; but he continued to defame him. In the process he projected himself as the only clean politician in India while portraying others as corrupt.
This has happened in the backdrop of a perception; “Netanyahu did not go to India to distract attention from problems at home. But if those problems are overshadowed as a result of the trip, then for Netanyahu, that would be a most welcome side-effect”. His involvement in corruption cases has been an open secret and even the Israeli media last month had planned instituting a formal trial against Netanyahu in both the cases.
The usual refrain in favour of renewing relations with Israel has been: since it is close to America, India is also ready to embrace it. But this is not the fact. The Sangh Parivar holds that like Hindu marriage, the relationship between India and Israel was solemnised in the heaven. Its implications are obvious. Sangh says; “they are made for each other”. It makes it amply clear that the Sangh sturdily likes to embrace Israel, which shares and endorses Sangh’s Hindutva and Hindu philosophy. Else, there is no other reason that India should hug Israel so tightly, that too when its leadership is facing serious charges.
It is worth recalling that the Modi-Netanyahu meeting in July 2017 had brushed aside the Israel-Palestine peace process. Interestingly, the joint statement issued on Monday in New Delhi “reaffirmed their support for an early resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians”. This is a strategic shift and indicates that Modi and Netanyahu had reworked on the issue. Nevertheless, Modi ought to realise the calamitous impact his move will have on the Indian societal relations and also its standing in the international geo-political arena.