Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi, as in the ad for Wills cigarettes and filters, are “Made for Each Other.” Born a year apart, Netanyahu in October 1949 and Modi in September 1950, they became the first persons born after the independence of their respective countries to hold the post of prime minister. In each other, they have found a mirror image of themselves.
Both are rigid, doctrinaire, right-wing extremists, drawing their breath from two major proponents of violence as the road to liberation and the realisation of faith-based nationhood: VD Savarkar in the case of Modi, and Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky in the case of Netanyahu.
Savarkar reserved his ire for the Buddha and Asoka, holding that their espousal of non-violence had “unmanned” the Hindu and, therefore, Hindu nationalism must be militarised. Jabotinsky called for an “iron wall of Jewish bayonets,” while bluntly affirming the obvious: “Zionism is a colonising adventure and it therefore, stands or falls by the question of armed force.”
Savarkar invented the word “Hindutva” (which he translated into English as “Hindudom” or Hindu Raj), propagated his version of the Two-Nation Theory holding Hindu nationhood to be incompatible with the followers of any Semitic religion, inspired the RSS and promoted the Hindu Mahasabha.
Jabotinsky founded the Union of Zionist Revisionists in 1923 (about the same time as Savarkar was toying with his ideas of “Hindutva”) and pitted himself against Theodore Herzl, founder of the Jewish Agency, and Ben-Gurion, leader of the Labour Zionists and future first PM of Israel, even as Savarkar pitted himself against Gandhi and Nehru. “Jabotinsky used to say that Judea had fallen in blood and fire and in fire and blood it would rise again. His disciples fulfilled that prophecy.”
Deriving from these two similar violence-ridden politico-ethical philosophies, Modi and Netanyahu have branded themselves self-consciously as proponents of a narrow, sectarian nationalism whose driving force is the demonisation of “the other” -- Pakistan in the case of Modi, and Palestine in Netanyahu’s case.
The cause to which they are devoted is a shrill, xenophobic, chauvinistic, and jingoist narrative. It serves their joint cause that the Pakistanis are Muslims and so are most Palestinians. Thus, “Hindutva” and “Yehuditva” come together on a common platform.
There are, of course, differences. For one, Netanyahu is highly educated, a scholar of some distinction. The same could hardly be said of Modi
There are, of course, differences. For one, Netanyahu is highly educated, a scholar of some distinction with both a graduate degree and a post-graduate degree from one of the world’s greatest educational institutions, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The same could hardly be said of Modi. For another, Modi has distanced himself from his spouse while Netanyahu has been through three marriages and entangled himself in several extra-matrimonial scandals.
That need not detain us long, but it is to be noted that on August 3, 2017, the Israeli police charged Netanyahu with “crimes including fraud, breach of trust, and bribes.” In India, of course, the police would not dare bring any such charge against a head of government.
In an earlier 1997 case, Netanyahu was let off owing to “insufficient evidence to go trial”. This would sound familiar to Modi’s ears as the Raghavan SIT had concluded that they could not find prosecutable evidence against him.
Where, perhaps, they come together is with their respective think-tanks: The Vivekananda International Foundation, established 2009 and “closely aligned,” says Wikipedia, “with the Narendra Modi government” and focused on exposing and countering “international terrorism” (first director, Ajit Doval, now National Security Adviser).
Netanyahu’s is the Anti-Terrorist Institute (established 1978) and named after Netanyahu’s brother, Yonatan, who was martyred while leading Operation Entebbe in 1975 to rescue the Israeli hostages who had been skyjacked to Idi Amin’s Uganda.
There is rich irony in Netanyahu casting himself as “anti-terrorist” because he comes in direct line of political descent from the dreaded Irgun Zvai Leumi, the Zionist terrorist gang that “blew up CID offices, tax centres, and the Immigration Building; planted bombs and led raids in which Britons and Arab civilians were killed.”
From 1943 on, Irgun was led by Menachem Begin, sometimes in opposition to, but often in tandem with, another terrorist outfit officially called Lehi but notoriously known as the Stern Gang. Its leader was Yitzhak Shamir. After founding a political party, Likud, in 1973, Begin became PM four years later in 1977, and in 1983 he handed over the premiership to his partner in terrorism -- Yitzahk Shamir. Netanyahu is the current leader of Begin-Shamir’s Likud party.
While Shamir’s Lehi terrorists assassinated the British resident minister for the Middle East, Lord Moyne, in Cairo in 1944, Begin organised the Irgun terrorist attack in Jerusalem on July 22, 1946 that “blew up a wing of the King David Hotel, which housed the British administration, killing 91 people.”
Shortly thereafter, the British discovered “a plot to extend Zionist terrorism to the UK, with Bevin (the foreign secretary) as one obvious target for assassination.” Even after Israel was secured, such terrorist activity continued, notably the attempt in 1952 to blow up the Federal German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, with a parcel bomb.
Between the two of them, Irgun and the Stern Gang, that is, Begin and Shamir -- future prime ministers of Israel -- got together with elements of the Jewish Agency’s army, Hagannah, to launch on April 10, 1948 what has come down in history as the most notorious, vicious attack on unarmed Arab Palestinians. “250 men, women, children, and old men were massacred” and then “their bodies were mutilated.”
Begin sent his congratulations to his fellow-terrorists saying: “As at Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will attack and smite the enemy. God, God, thou hast chosen us for conquest.”
His final unambiguous sentence was: “That the story of Deir Yassin did a great service to the Jewish state -- it got rid of the Arabs.”
A fortnight later, on April 25, 1948, Arab Jaffa (liberated from Turkish rule by Indian troops during WWI and commemorated by the Teen Murti monument in New Delhi) was attacked by the two terrorist outfits, and such was the dread they inspired that almost “70,000 inhabitants abandoned their city and fled. There followed scenes of looting, pillaging, and destruction” by the Jewish forces.
On becoming prime minister, Begin consolidated his reputation for wanton murder by egging on the 1982 massacre of hundreds of hapless Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese camps of Sabra and Shatila, which brought down so much opprobrium on Begin that he was forced to resign the following year, only to make way for his fellow erstwhile terrorist from the Stern Gang, Yitzhak Shamir.
These are the distinguished Likud (officially, the Likud-National Liberal Movement, is a centre-right to right-wing political party in Israel) predecessors of Benjamin Netanyahu. No wonder he has been ruthless, inhuman, and callous in showering missiles and bombs on Palestinian protesters in the Gaza strip, roundly condemned in the Goldstone Report of 2009 and the Falk Report of 2017, followed by a series of UN resolutions.
It is all, however, water off his duck’s back because he remains completely unmoved at the plight of the Palestinians.
In the same month as he inflicted these atrocities, Netanyahu spoke at Bar-Ilan University on June 14, 2009 laying down his conditions for a two-state solution: Palestine to be de-militarised forever with “no army, rockets, missiles, or control of its airspace,” Jerusalem to be “undivided Jewish territory,” no right of return for the Palestinians driven out of Israel or the Occupied Territories as this would “undermine Israel’s continued existence as the State of the Jewish People” (what I call “Yehuditva”); and Palestinian acceptance of not only the State of Israel (that the Palestinians have acquiesced in since Arafat became the undisputed Palestinian leader in 1967) but, more specifically, acceptance of Israel as a “Jewish state” (thus forfeiting the right of displaced Palestinians to ever return even to a united state of Israel-Palestine).
More recently, in 2015, to the outrage of millions of Jews within and outside Israel, Netanyahu “claimed to speak for all Jews world-wide” -- rather like Modi’s outrageous and oft-repeated claim to speak on behalf of “125 crore Indians,” when not even a third of the Indian electorate voted him to office in 2014.
India has lost the moral compass set by Mahatma Gandhi when he famously proclaimed, ‘Palestine belongs to the Arabs as France to the French and England to the English’
In the current West Asian turmoil, dangerously aggravated by the Trump-Netanyahu axis, there is little scope for the Modi government to play the role of “honest broker,” as is being suggested by Modi’s decision to make a stand-alone visit to Palestine next month, in the immediate wake of this Netanyahu visit, in order to allegedly maintain the “balance” in India’s relations with Israel and Palestine.
India has lost the moral compass set by Mahatma Gandhi when he famously proclaimed, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs as France to the French and England to the English,” and the practical course set by Nehru when India stood against the partitioning of Palestine and sought instead a united state with autonomously governed provinces for the Arabs and the Jews within a democratic, secular, constitutional framework for the two communities to live together fraternally.
Modi’s alternative realpolitik is stymied by Israel’s visceral hatred of the same Iran that had been assiduously cultivating in this part of the world.
And given India’s 7 million strong diaspora in the Gulf region, it is in India’s obvious vital national interest to not be party to the stoking of intra-Arab rivalry or IsraeI’s confrontation with Iran.
That is why, for all the hype being generated by the Modi cohort over the Netanyahu visit, India’s most knowledgeable expert on West Asia, Ambassador Talmiz Ahmed, says, India-Israel relations “will remain transactional in character and never attain the level of a strategic partnership.”
Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. This article originally appeared on NDTV.com and has been reprinted under a special arrangement.