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India and Israel Enjoy Closest Ties in Sixty Years

June 2008
India and Israel Enjoy Closest Ties in Sixty Years

Israel celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, just as India marked its 60th year of independence in 2007. After a rocky relationship that lasted decades, the two nations now maintain friendly ties, the best they’ve ever had. Trade between them is worth $5 billion per year, having skyrocketed by 45 percent since 2006. Full diplomatic links were established in 1992, and India has emerged as the biggest buyer of Israeli arms. There have been initiatives between the two countries in agriculture, horticulture, science and technology, and the arts. The Gujarat government has allotted 500 acres to an Israeli company for an ultra-modern dairy plant, which will cost $100 million and house 10,000 cows. In Rajasthan’s Thar Desert, Israelis are providing expertise in water resource management and the planting of date palms and olive trees.   

Joint ventures involving the defense industry have also been announced. A cultural initiative worth mentioning is the forming of Shalom Namaste, an ensemble comprising mainly Israeli Jews of Indian origin. Two Israeli dance groups—Namaste Israel and Shalom Ashdod—make up Shalom Namaste, which performed in Delhi, Shillong and Mumbai last year. Many young Israelis, after completing a mandatory stint in the military, like to take a long break—often stretching into months—in India. They usually stick to a favored circuit that extends from Goa in the west to Manali in the north.

The number of Israelis going to India, according to one source, reaches 40,000 every year. A not-so-surprising consequence of this phenomenon is that an Israeli TV producer has decided to do a reality show on the lives of these twenty-something visitors in India. Reportedly, auditions for the debut program have already begun. Most Israeli citizens of Indian origin, said to be about 70,000, are Bene Jews (originally from the Konkan coast) and Cochin Jews (originally from the Malabar coast). However, the best-known Indian closely associated with Israel is not a Jew, but a Bombay-born Parsi. He is, of course, Zubin Mehta, music director for life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

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