Both are rigid, doctrinaire, right-wing extremists, drawing their breath from two major proponents of violence as the road to liberation and the realization 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 militarized. Jabotinsky called for an "iron wall of Jewish bayonets", while bluntly affirming the obvious: "Zionism is a colonizing adventure and it therefore, stands or falls by the question of armed force".
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 demonization 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 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 our country, 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).
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" (Karen Armstrong, Holy War, Anchor/random, New York, p.106). 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 organized 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" (Karen Armstrong, Holy War, Anchor/random, New York, p.106). Shortly thereafter, the British discovered "a plot to extend Zionist terrorism to the United Kingdom, 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. "Two hundred and fifty men, women, children and old men were massacred" (Armstrong, p.107) 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".
These are the distinguished Likud 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 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 our relations with Israel and Palestine. We have 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 we are assiduously cultivating. And given our seven million strong diaspora in the Gulf region, it is in our 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, our 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.)
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