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India and Israel: A relationship inspired by our communities in the UK

The blossoming relationship between India and Israel, marked by reciprocal state visits in just a few short months, is an expression of a new and necessary alliance in a rapidly shifting world

    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Air Force Station in New Delhi
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Air Force Station in New Delhi (Photo PRAKASH INGH/AFP/Getty Images)

    When Benjamin Netanyahu touched down in New Delhi on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was waiting to greet him, literally with open arms.

    But while Mr Modi’s gesture was unexpected, it should not come as a surprise.

    The blossoming relationship between India and Israel, marked by reciprocal state visits in just a few short months, is an expression of a new and necessary alliance in a rapidly shifting world. Faced with unprecedented global challenges, leaders and people around the world are looking not only for answers, but for partners who share their concerns, aspirations and values. Against this backdrop, India and Israel are a natural fit.

    When Mr Modi arrived in Tel Aviv in July, he spoke of how India and the Jewish state share a “deep and centuries-old” connection.

    It is certainly true that India and Israel have a lot of common ground. The synergies of supply, demand and political priorities are striking: both countries are conscious of regional pressures, the threats to security and the need for a strong military presence.

    Both nations are home to some of the leading hi-tech companies in the world. And both are at the forefront of advances in science and engineering, all of which create space for collaboration and commercial activity. Trade relations are thriving.

    But there’s more than just a meeting of minds and economies. The two countries share cherished values. Israel and India are both anxious of the terrorist threats they face and the need to remain secure without compromising their democratic principles.

    Culturally too, there is much that connects them. To better understand this, we need to look no further than the experience of the Jewish and Indian communities right here in the UK.

    When I arrived in Britain in the 1970s after being forcibly evicted from East Africa, I was a penniless immigrant trying to make it. Like many others, I was inspired by the Jewish community who years earlier had arrived in this country, impoverished and suffering prejudice, but despite this had succeeded to build a better life.

    I believe the success of the British Indian community is owed in no small part to the example set by our Jewish friends. Like them, we were guided by aspiration, a passionate belief in enterprise and education, not to mention faith, family and community. Today we are friends, neighbours and business partners. India-Israel relations mirror the process started in the UK in the 1970s and continues to this day.

    We knew then what India and Israel are discovering now. The real surprise is not that India-Israel relations have taken off, but that it has taken so long.

     

    Lord Popat is the UK Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Rwanda and Uganda