Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on Wednesday morning of the “kinship” he feels with Israel, hailing the rapidly improving relations between the two countries, and especially the burgeoning trade ties.
Modi arrived Tuesday, making him the first-ever head of India’s government to visit the Jewish state.
“Israel is a real friend and I have really felt that feeling of kinship. I feel absolutely at home here,” Modi said during a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. “Your Excellency, you yourself broke protocol and stepped onto the road [at the President’s Residence] to receive me, and this is a mark of respect to the entire Indian nation comprising 1.25 billion people,” he added.
“You have expressed your love and your sentiments for our country. For that, I would especially like to thank you and express my gratitude.”
Rivlin heartily welcomed the prime minister to his residence.
“We have a lot in common, we are doing a lot in common,” he said, praising Modi for understanding the need of fostering both government-to-government and business-to-government relations. “It’s really a pleasure to have as a guest one of the greatest leaders in the world today. Prime Minister, welcome,” Rivlin concluded.
Modi, dressed all in black, recalled Rivlin’s visit to India eight months ago, praising the president for making an effort to visit several cities to get a full picture of the the country. At the time, Rivlin said he wanted to turn Modi’s dictum “Make in India” to “Make with India,” seeking to promote the joint flourishing of both economies.
Modi on Wednesday endorsed Rivlin’s idea. “In your introductory words, you used all sorts of phrases used in the world of trade and commerce, such as G2G and B2B et cetera, but in the real world what we see today is ‘I for I,’ and ‘I with I.’ And when I say ‘I for I’ I don’t mean the popular saying, what I mean is India with Israel and India for Israel,” he said.
Later on Wednesday, Modi will meet again with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for lunch and attend an event during which several bilateral agreements will be signed.
Modi is also scheduled to meet Moshe Holtzberg, the now 12-year-old son of two Chabad emissaries, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, who were killed in a November 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. He is also expected to meet with Sandra Samuel, Moshe’s nanny at the time, who rescued the boy on the day of the attack.
In the afternoon, he is set to meet opposition leader Isaac Herzog and members of the Indian community. He will then head to the Israel Museum, where together with Netanyahu he will walk through the Synagogue Route and gaze at a reconstruction of the Kadavumbagam synagogue from the town of Cochin in southern India.
On Wednesday evening, at around 8, the two prime ministers are scheduled to address a major rally at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, which is expected to draw some 4,000 participants. Before the two leaders make their speeches, the crowd will be entertained by a cultural program, including a performance by popular Bollywood playback singer Sukhwinder Singh.
About 12,000 non-Jewish Indian nationals currently live and work in Israel, as well as some 80,000 Israeli Jews with at least one parent of Indian origin. Only 5,000 Jews remain in India today.
On Thursday morning, Modi and Netanyahu will take a helicopter ride to Haifa, where they will visit a cemetery where Indian soldiers who fought in World War I are buried. Modi is expected to lay two wreaths — one for Hindu and one for Muslims soldiers who perished “during the liberation of Haifa in 1918,” as Modi put it in a recent Facebook post.
On their way back to Tel Aviv, Modi and Netanyahu will visit a water desalination unit before having lunch with Indian and Israeli executives. They will then attend a large innovation conference, during which five Israeli companies and four Indian companies will make presentations.
In 1992, when diplomatic ties were established, bilateral trade was at about $200 million. Today, it reaches $5 billion, one-fifth of which is in Israeli defense exports.
After a short meeting with Indian students late Thursday afternoon, Modi will head to the airport, where Netanyahu will bid him goodbye during an official ceremony.