Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to India, met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and concluded nine trade deals between the two countries. The visit is just the latest manifestation of the growing alliance between Israel and India, a country that was long hostile to the Jewish state, and refused to have formal diplomatic ties until 1991. To Swapan Dasgupta, New Delhi’s reluctance to improve relations with Jerusalem came from its excessive fear of provoking Muslim rage:
For the longest possible time, Indian diplomacy has run scared of facing the truth over Israel because of the fear of a Muslim backlash at home and recriminations against migrant Indian workers in the Islamic nations of West Asia. Someone had to take the bull by the horn and end this nonsense. The Modi government took the step in 2014, culminating in the Netanyahu visit last week.
There may have been a few angry editorials in the [mostly Muslim] Urdu press, some inflammatory sermons in mosques, an isolated black-flag demonstration or two in some cities, and some snide comments about the hug [with which Modi greeted Netanyahu upon his arrival]. However, in the main, the visit was a spectacular success. If tomorrow India starts making preparations to shift its embassy, now in Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem—as I believe it should—the protests will be insignificant.
The lessons should be obvious. The veto of a handful of activists should not deter governments from doing what is right and what is in the national interest. Fear should never be the reason for inaction.
Israel may be a tiny country, perhaps even equal in size to some of India’s larger parliamentary constituencies. Yet the popular respect it commands is disproportionate to the area it covers on the world map. This may have partly to do with Israel’s status as the custodian of an ancient Jewish civilization and partly with its doughty battle to survive while being surrounded by implacably hostile countries. Israel today epitomizes a gritty determination that is a source of colossal admiration. It is a friend worth having.