New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday (October 17) for a three-day visit. The visit is considered crucial since the regime change in Israel and aims to solidify the strategic partnership between the two countries.
"Shalom Israel. Arrived on my first visit as External Affairs Minister. Looking forward to a great visit," the Minister said in a tweet. Jaishankar will hold a bilateral meeting with the Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid during the visit.
Further, he will also call on President Isaac Herzog, new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy. India and Israel elevated bilateral relations to a Strategic Partnership during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Israel in July 2017. The ties between the two countries have focused on expanding knowledge-based partnership, which includes collaboration in innovation and research, including boosting the 'Make in India' initiative.
The visit will also be an occasion to pay tribute to the Indian soldiers who laid their lives in the region during the First World War.
His visit would also ensure engagement with the new coalition government in Israel and provide a fresh boost to the bilateral relationship.
Naftali Bennett, a right-wing Jewish nationalist, took over as the new PM of Israel, replacing Benjamin Netanyahu. Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier did enjoy a good personal rapport with Mr Netanyahu, and the bond also helped in boosting the ties. On August 16, Prime Minister Modi spoke to Israel's new Prime Minister, Mr Bennet.
"We reviewed all areas of India-Israel cooperation and agreed on the tremendous potential of our Strategic Partnership, especially in technology and innovation," Mr Modi had tweeted.
Speaking at a function, Dr Jaishankar said the Indian Jewish community is in many ways very unique, saying, "It is a community that has existed peacefully in India for hundreds of years, which maintained its Jewish identity despite a long period of isolation from other Jewish communities." He further said, "…..you all chose a new life here mainly for civilizational reasons. It is again a basis for creating a new bond between India and Israel."
Dr Jaishankar said, "It is inevitable that we consider you as one of us."
"The Talmud mentions trade with India in ginger and iron. And the Book of Esther, in fact mentions India as Hodu. One of your 17th century mystics settled down near Delhi and was revered as a Sufi saint by us."
The Jewish Indian community over many centuries, in multiple ways, contributed to the building of India, he said, adding, "We often go around Mumbai and Pune not realizing that many landmarks were actually the contributions of this community, whether it is the Sassoon docks in Mumbai and the Sassoon Hospital in Pune."
David Sassoon, in fact, was one of the founders of the Bank of India, Dr Jaishankar said.
"Some members of the community contributed as educators, some as medical doctors, like Dr Jerusha Jhirad, was awarded one of our highest civilian awards, the Padma Shri. Some served as administrators and some distinguished themselves in judiciary, such as David Reuben, who served as the Chief Justice of one of our High Courts."
The Minister also recalled the likes of Vice Admiral J R Samson, Maj Gen B A Samson, and of course, Lt Gen J F R Jacob, whose uniform hangs at the Latrun Museum. "And, of course, the community has excelled as poets and artists in India. The name Nissim Ezekiel readily comes to mind, whom we honoured with our Sahitya Akademi Award.
People of my generation, in fact, grew up with the signature tune of All India Radio that was composed by a Jewish exile in India, Walter Kauffman," Dr Jaishankar said.
He said, "How could it be that India, with all its influences, could have left the community untouched in terms of Bollywood and cricket. So, of course, the community has been part of the film industry and, you know, one, very distinguished member, Judah Reuben, actually, officiated as cricket umpire in many of India's test matches."
The Jewish Indian community also has made very rich contributions to Israel. "Like those by Lt. Ellis Ashton Asthamkar to the Hagana, agricultural scientist Eliayu Bezalel, and cardio-thoracic surgeon Dr Lael Best. Indeed, we have honored Mr Bezalel and Dr Best with our Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award."
The Indian traditions in many ways now have "become yours", he said.
"I am told, for example, that the distinctive Malida thali made by the Bene Israelis–and Malida is now officially incorporated in the local calendar in Israel. Likewise, the influence of the Mangal sutra and the Mehendi among Bene Israelis."
"You also adopted that very Indian tradition of removing shoes before entering the synagogue. And you all still remember our way of life, our languages, our festivals, and, I am told about the Maiboli journal in Marathi. And I recently saw pictures of Onam being celebrated with a saadya meal," Dr Jaishankar said.