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Reviewed by:
  • India's Israel Policy
  • Michael B. Bishku (bio)
India's Israel Policy, by P.R. Kumaraswamy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. 362 pages. $55.

This is the first comprehensive study and analysis of the views of major Indian political figures and the policies of the Indian National Congress and later the government of India toward the Yishuv in Palestine and later the state of Israel up to the present. Kumaraswamy describes India's public attitude toward Israel until the end of the Cold War as "cool, unfriendly and even hostile" despite the fact that there has never been anti-Semitism in India since Jews first arrived there following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (pp. 1-2). Indeed, India was the "last major non-Islamic country" to establish diplomatic relations with Israel (p. 268) — shortly after the People's Republic of China — in January 1992 and justification given by many political figures and parties for not doing so sooner is derived from a statement written by Mohandas Gandhi in his Harijan weekly newspaper in November 1938: "Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English and France to the French" (p. 25).

Yet the Mahatma made many other pronouncements that have never been quoted to justify foreign policy positions and even told American journalist Louis Fischer in 1946, perhaps affected by the events of the Holocaust, that the "Jews have a good case in Palestine. If the Arabs have a claim to Palestine, the Jews have a prior claim" (p. 38). The Indian National Congress (INC) — and its chief spokesman for foreign affairs, Jawaharlal Nehru — were just as mindful as Gandhi of the importance of Palestine to the rival Muslim League, which flirted with and later embraced the idea of a separate entity for Muslims of India. While Nehru had a better understanding of the historic plight of the Jews than did Gandhi, he was unsympathetic to nationalism based on religion and like others in the INC viewed the Palestine issue from a secular and anti-imperialist perspective: Palestine was an Arab country and while the rights of Jews living there should be protected, it should not be through cooperation with British imperial interests or at the expense of Arab rights. In 1947, India as a member of the 11-country United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) proposed a federal plan for Palestine known as the minority report, rejected by both Arabs and Jews, which had the support of representatives from Iran and Yugoslavia; ironically, India's representative Abdur Rahman emigrated to Pakistan shortly after.

India recognized Israel in September 1950 — many months after Yugoslavia and Iran had done so — even though Israel had been a member of the United Nations since May 1949. However, while Israel established a trade commission office in [End Page 169] Mumbai shortly after India's recognition that became a consulate in 1953, official jurisdiction of Israeli representatives posted there was restricted to the Indian state of Maharashtra (and after 1989 to Kerala); they could meet Indian government officials elsewhere in India only as foreign nationals, but these contacts were very limited. Meanwhile, Maulana Azad, officially Minister of Education until his death in 1958, served as Nehru's advisor on Arab and Islamic affairs. Kumaraswamy contends that Azad prevented normalization of relations with Israel as it would harm India's position vis-à-vis the Arabs regarding Kashmir and would "antagonize domestic Muslim opinion" (p. 146). From 1953 onward, Nehru developed a close relationship with Egyptian leader Gamal 'Abd al-Nasser as both became important figures in what evolved into the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961. The Bandung Conference of Afro-Asian states in April 1955 excluded Israel due to Pakistani opposition and the threat of an Arab boycott, a decision with which India was uncomfortable. However, with Israel's collaborative involvement with the British and French in the Suez War of 1956, Nehru condemned the military action against Egypt and formally ruled out normalization of relations with Israel; in 1962, Egypt remained neutral during the Sino-Indian War, while India secretly received military assistance from Israel (as was the case during the...


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