Dr Khinvraj Jangid
Israel and Hamas (Islamist group of the Palestinian national movement) had once again a long spell of violent fighting for more than ten days in May that caused serious concern in international politics, compelling many states to take position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
India, as usual, tried to put on a balancing act for the sake of strategic ambiguity by making some very critical remarks against the escalation between the two at the United Nations where it criticised both the parties and asked for the political solution based on the two-state solution.
India’s ambiguous position was such that none could blame it for siding with Israel, its strategic partner, or that it was much in favour of the Palestinian cause. Diplomatically speaking, it was a tactful and much in India’s interest.
However, there was a battle on Indian social media that was animated, ideological and meant for taking sides. There were two major trends like #IndiaStandsWithIsrael and #IndiaStandsWithPalestinians which were re-tweeted (300,000 times according to First Draft News, a UK-based non-profit organisation).
The tweets were polemical and provocative and were more meant for attacking the other rather than addressing the complexity of violence between Israel and Hamas.
Israel is a controversial topic and it often evokes strong opinions not only in India but also globally.
What was interesting during the last Gaza war was the image building of Israel in Indian social media and how the young minds perceive Israel.
The image of Israel, gaining traction with young Indians in particular (something I have encountered first-hand when teaching the foreign policy of Israel), is a fascination about Mossad, the army and conscription, and the much-vaulted ‘Start-Up Nation’.
When asked why they have chosen to study about Israel, many of the students describe how enamoured they are with the power and military capacities of Israel. It is the geo-strategic achievements (overlooking the failure to establish peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians) of the state of Israel that they refer to, rather than the complex history of the Jews prior to the state, encompassing anti-Semitism across two millennia or the Holocaust.
Millions of young minds have fallen in love with the Israeli TV series ‘Fauda’, unwrapping as it does the hidden world of the Israeli army, intelligence gathering, and thrilling levers of the conflict management. This violence, by the state or for the sake of the state, is legitimate, even desirable, in their eyes.
Young Indians have been exposed to a militaristic, aggressive form of nationalism, coupled with swagger and machismo, since the rise of Narendra Modi in Indian national politics.
In the light of the changing domestic political values—from peace, non-violence and compromise, to violence, jingoism and revenge in the name of nation—it is no wonder that this idea of Israel resonates with young Indians.
This growing enchantment is creating an image of Israel that reduces it to a military state, lacking any socio-cultural complexity, or indeed the often contradictory political realities of its people.
In popular parlance, it is to move Israelis from one extreme to the other—from settler-colonial-state to the all-powerful-friend-India-must-have that it emulates.
Either way, it is to find oneself classed according to binaries, rather than as a group of people grappling with their political destiny, like the people of India or for that matter any post-colonial state in Asia: a country still having to negotiate between religion and modernity, nationalism and universalism, the neo-liberal and welfare state, conflict resolution and managem
Israel will continue to be an ideological question in Indian politics as well as in public opinion simply because there is nothing apolitical between nations, but the ideational normalisation of Israel remains very much desired.
The image of India in Israel is completely different where India enjoys an incredible amount of soft power. Many young Israelis perceive India as destination for yoga, meditation and a place of peace that they visit after their first years of conscription.
The rising strategic partnership between India and Israel has created another pool of people who look up to India for high-tech and business.
The political class in Israel has accepted India’s ambiguous approach towards its conflict with the Palestinians. Leaders like Netanyahu have adopted pragmatic approach towards India and have not demanded much explicit support and solidarity for the state of Israel.
-The writer is an Associate Professor and Director at the Centre for Israel Studies, Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat