Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj concluded her two-day visit to Israel on Monday. Her visit came just months after the historic visit by the president of India, Pranab Mukherjee, to Jerusalem. I applaud these visits, as they reflect a strengthening of the relations India and Israel continue to develop.
As the current head of the India-Israel Friendship Association and as the former foreign minister of Israel, in recent months, I’ve had the honour to meet with India’s president and foreign minister and have been impressed by their understanding of the importance of the bond between our two countries which continues to flourish and grow.
We have made powerful strides in the 24 years since we opened full diplomatic relations in a variety of fields. From agriculture to security, trade, counter-terrorism, and water technology, I am certain we will continue to deepen and broaden this meaningful, strong relationship in more fields.
Israel has built itself as a “start-up nation”, a hub for new technologies, hi-tech and start-ups, and India has just launched “Start-up India”, a massive programme to promote economic activity by supporting a pro-innovation ecosystem. In a globalised world like ours, cooperation in innovation and technology between Israelis and Indians is critical as we seek to become leading forces in the global economy in future.
An important part of this relationship, which first began in the agricultural sector, can be attributed to the visit of India’s Union agriculture minister at the time, Sharad Pawar, who visited Israel in 2006 together with a number of chief ministers, including Narendra Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat and is today the prime minister of India.
But what is perhaps even stronger than these shared fields of interest are the fundamental similarities our two countries share, despite our difference in size. We are both vibrant democracies, with ancient civilisational histories, and we are both constantly willing to work together to envision a better world.
We also share a very special connection between our two peoples. For millennia, thriving Jewish communities have called India home. The unique, tolerant and welcoming society India presents has enabled Jews as well as Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Baha’i and others to live and flourish, becoming an integral and inseparable part of Indian civilisation. Jews in India never faced persecution or anti-Semitism — indeed, Jews facing persecution around the world often fled to India.
As Israel’s foreign minister, I personally took part in developing the India-Israel partnership and had firsthand experience of what this relationship means for Israel. But I also bore witness to the terrible tragedy of 2008, when Mumbai was hit by horrific terrorist attacks. Then, as today, India and Israel share the same fight against terror and the support we give each other on that field stays firm.
My love for the country of India is not only in the political field. In 2012, I travelled to India myself. As I moved through the northern parts of the country, I had the opportunity to personally experience what so many young Israelis have already experienced — beautiful country and rich, magnificent Indian culture and hospitality. I was privileged to meet extraordinary Indians who taught me about the history, society and people of the country.
I am sure that our two countries’ relationship will grow stronger and more fruitful in future. The relations we’ve built so far are only the tip of the iceberg and much more cooperation and many more joint projects are yet to come.