Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Israel and his chemistry with Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu grabbed eyeballs across the world. The visit was seen as an “upgradation” of India-Israel ties as Modi became the first Indian PM to visit Israel since 1947. The meeting was also noticed as India dumped the usual practice of visiting Palestine whenever an Indian leader visited Israel.
A lot has been written about the historical Modi-Netanyahu meet and their apparent friendship. But not many know that there is a “fascinating” parallel between the rise of both leaders in their countries. As such, “The chemistry between them was evident throughout Modi’s brief visit in July. But it is, or more accurately may prove to be, a match made in history,” according to The American Interest, a bimonthly magazine.
In an article in the magazine, Jonathan Spyer, director, Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs at IDC, Herzliya, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum, has written in detail about the “fascinating parallel” in the history of the political streams that brought both leaders to power in their respective countries.
India and Israel became independent simultaneously. At the time of independence, the dominant national movements in India and Israel had “a considerable amount in common,” writes Spyer. Both Israel Workers Party (Mapai) and Congress were “self-consciously secular, left-leaning parties.” Interestingly, neither Modi and Netanyahu were associated with these movements.
Netanyahu is associated with what is now known as Revisionist Zionism. Says Spyers, Netanyahu’s father served as the personal secretary to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who was the founder of the movement. In Mapai-dominated Israel, it was impossible for people associated with the revisionist current to start academic careers in humanities. So Netanyahu’s father moved to the US.
All the proponents of Revisionist Zionism are now dominating Israel since 1977. The article says Netanyahu was “scion” of the movement and now its head. According to the writer, the presently ruling Likud’s electoral successes have been possible because of “a coalition of former ‘outsiders’ in Israeli society who have now become the ‘inside’: Jews of North African and Middle Eastern extraction, and secular nationalists and religious traditionalists of East European origin.” Under Mapai, they were “excluded” or “relegated to secondary status.”
Spyer says there is a lot of commonality between the rise of Netanyahu’s group from the opposition to mainstream in Israel to Modi’s BJP-RSS in India. He says that like the Zionist revisionists, Hindu nationalists RSS started its journey in the 1920s as a group opposed to the Congress. “The RSS was characterized by its advocacy of a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu nation) in contrast to the overt secularism of Congress,” writes Spyer, adding, “Throughout the history of the modern republic of India, RSS and its heirs have stood for a profoundly different vision of the country from that of Congress and its two seminal figures, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.”
Modi, who joined RSS as a boy in Gujarat went on to become the top leader of the BJP and brought it back to power in 2014.
There are also some other common points between Netanyahu and Modi. Both leaders have “somewhat adversarial relationship” with media in their countries. Like Netanyahu, Modi is also focused on technology and development. Spyer writes, “…the India-Israel “honeymoon” is a romance between two political streams now enjoying unusual dominance.” Modi-Netanyahu relation will depend on the way they continue to dominate. While Netanyahu is hit by scandal and probe, Spyer says, Modi is still “dogged by allegations that he condoned” 2002 Gujarat riots.