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Israel. Through India’s Eyes
Delhi Professor looks to Jewish state for inspiration “Because Judaism is based on very strong ethical ideas, what Israel does is to create an excellence”

M.L. Sondhi
Jewish Exponent, March 14, 1996

Robert Leiter
Jewish Exponent Staff

Israel – especially the technological expertise of its scientists and researchers – holds the solution to the myriad problems facing India and other underdeveloped nations.

So believes Professor M.L. Sondhi, who is running for a seat in the Indian parliament in the upcoming elections in April.

There are already a great number of joint projects under way between India and Israel, dealing with irrigation and agriculture, some of them begun even before the two countries resumed normal diplomatic relations four years ago.

“It is a very important message that Israel has for the world,” Sondhi said. “Because Judaism is based on very strong ethical ideas, what Israel does is to create an excellence. You expect them to do wonders because they have such high standards.”

Sondhi made his remarks recently to a group of Jewish journalists from American and Israeli newspapers who had been invited by the Indian government to tour the subcontinent. B’nai B’rith in Washington co-sponsored the trip.

30 years at Nehru University

A professor of international relations for more than 30 years at Delhi’s Nehru University, Sondhi held parliamentary office from the late ’60 to the early ‘70s and has served as an Indian diplomat.

He is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, which is in opposition to the ruling Congress Party.

The BJP, which stresses Hindu nationalism, has never been as popular as Congress with the majority of voters in India, who are more secular-minded.

During the Cold War years, “the Congress Party was pro-Soviet – or at least pro the Soviet experiment,” Sondhi said. “They were for regimenting the economy as the party tilted more toward the communist ideal, even as it said it was intellectually opposed to it. “The BJP, on the other hand, is conservative in many areas. But we have to come to power and then see where we are.”

According to other governmental officials interviewed in India, the BJP has a good chance of winning the election especially since the Congress Party and Prime Minister P.V. Narashimha Rao are embroiled in a kickback scandal, along with a lesser number of BJP members. When asked about his party’s chances, Sondhi would only say, “That party will win which gives the best chance to its citizens. If we can create certain policies realistically, we may have a chance to win.”

For all his positive words about Israel, Sondhi did have criticisms of the Jewish state. Despite the nation’s considerable achievements, he said, he feels that Israelis have yet to reach their full potential when they venture out into the world. What holds them back is what Sondhi calls “the Jewish psyche of insecurity.” Where other people might look at a situation and see potential, Sondhi said, Israelis are sceptical and often see danger and ill will.

This is understandable, Sondhi said, considering the long history of persecution the Jews have suffered, all of which culminated in the horrors of the Holocaust. But the post-Cold War world is a different place, Sondhi insisted, one filled with promise and potential. “If Israelis get the opportunity, if the hostility around them dies down, they can create so much,” he said. “But first they must accept that the future is good for them.”

In Sondhi’s opinion, the collapse of the Soviet Union – and with it the demise of communism in Eastern Europe – has shown the world that “economies can turn around and that people can be transformed.”

“All of us have to get adjusted to this world, which will not be one of conflict,” he said. “The world was, until recently, made of disagreements. But now, people may allow currencies to be stabilized and water and food to be shared.”

Sondhi did not deny that there was a legacy of opposition to Israel in India’s past, and that, in the Cold War period, his country was viewed as a friend of the Soviet Union. But that kind of thinking is losing its currency, he said. “The test of what will happen after the peace process will take place in Asia,” the professor said. “There is opportunity today in India, Korea, Japan, in Thailand, in Nepal. “A peace dividend is coming to Israel in Asia, if Israel is able to get over its psyche of insecurity. Israel is in a very strong position – spiritually, militarily and economically.”

A long time love

According to other Indian officials, Sondhi’s positive feeling for things Jewish is not a new development; he has long expressed his admiration for Judaism, Israel and Israelis. In addition, the officials made it clear that the professor does not simply say these things to visiting Jewish journalists but to non-Jews as well. There would seem to be little political profit in Sondhi’s making pro-Israel comments, since there are perhaps only 6,000 Jews left in all of India – the largest population center being Bombay, with 3,000 Jews. At one point, there were three major Jewish communities in India – the Bene Israel, the Cochin Jews and the Baghdadi Jews. But the great majority – including all of the Jews in Calcutta – have made aliyah.

“Here are two ancient cultural streams, and I believe something creative can come of them together,” Sondhi said of Israel and India. “There is a tremendous cultural basis to the relationship. The Jewish religion is based on nature festivals, and that affects us. “Israelis also understand the Indian mentality, and have a good understanding of Hinduism. We are not far from each other. “When you give any Indian the facts about Jewish history – give him Jewish literature and Jewish thinking and Jewish spirituality – then something is going to blossom.”

Sondhi believes that Jerusalem should not be divided. “This is the only city that three religions claim,” the professor said. “But Israel feels Jerusalem differently than the others. And the group that loves this city and feels it like no other should have control over it. This doesn’t mean that the other parties are pushed out. “From Jerusalem, all that Jewish thinking and yearning should be built upon.”

The Israel-Indian relationship will benefit both parties in a number of ways – some good for the economy, others good for the soul, Sondhi said. “We can’t be satisfied, though, with just euphoria,” he said. “The more we have of frankness and strength in the relationship, the better. “I would say to my Israeli friends that they perhaps worry too much. In almost every area, Israel has the answers. But Israel has to succeed before India succeeds.”

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