Indian PM Modi makes ‘historic’ 3-day visit to Israel
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Indian PM Modi makes ‘historic’ 3-day visit to Israel

Leader of world’s largest democracy will be accompanied by Netanyahu throughout his trip, an honor usually reserved for US presidents

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on December 11, 2014. (Photo credit: AFP/Findlay KEMBER)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on December 11, 2014. (Photo credit: AFP/Findlay KEMBER)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due in Israel Tuesday afternoon for a three-day visit both countries are going to great lengths to describe as historic.

Billed as a celebration of the 25-year anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties, Modi’s visit marks the first to Israel by an Indian head of government. Besides sit-downs with senior politicians and business leaders, his packed itinerary includes meeting a Jewish victim of a terror attack in Mumbai; visiting a flower farm, a desalination plant and the Israel Museum; headlining a rally for thousands of Indians living in Israel; and laying wreaths at a military cemetery in Haifa.

Notably, Modi decided not to visit the Palestinian Authority, an exceedingly rare move for countries with good ties in the Arab world. New Delhi explains this anomaly as part of a desire to “de-hyphenate” its relationships with Jerusalem and with Ramallah.

“As the first Indian Prime Minister to do so, I am greatly looking forward to this unprecedented visit that will bring our two countries and people closer,” Modi wrote on his Facebook account Monday. “I will have in-depth talks with Prime Minister Netanyahu on the full spectrum of our partnership and strengthening it in diverse fields for mutual benefit. We will also have the chance to discuss major common challenges like terrorism,” he wrote, next to a photo of himself with Netanyahu.

I will be visiting Israel on 4-6 July, 2017 upon invitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו. As…

Posted by Narendra Modi on Monday, 3 July 2017

To underline the importance Jerusalem is ascribing to Modi’s visit, Netanyahu cleared his schedule to be at his prominent guest’s side throughout almost the entire time he is in the country. This kind of attention by an Israeli prime minister is usually reserved for American presidents.

“I will accompany the prime minister at many events during his visit, as befits the leader of the largest democracy in the world,” Netanyahu said Monday during the weekly cabinet meeting.

On Tuesday, hours before Modi’s arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, he and Netanyahu co-authored an opinion piece hailing the importance of this week’s visit.

“The natural partnership between India and Israel, formally elevated 25 years ago to full diplomatic relations, has grown stronger from year to year. The deep connection between our peoples reflects our many similarities in spirit, if not in size,” the two leaders wrote in the piece, which was published in The Times of India and Israel Hayom newspapers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, during the COP21 UN Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris on November 30, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, during the COP21 UN Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris on November 30, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“Ours are two modern, vibrant democracies that draw on our rich historical traditions while striving to seize the promise of the future for our peoples.”

Both Israel and India are complex countries, Modi and Netanyahu continued. “Like yogic asanas grounding down and pulling up at the same time, they face many challenges. By working together we can overcome some of the challenges.”

Besides the high symbolic value and the diplomatic meetings, Modi’s visit has a strong economic focus as well. The two countries are set to establish a new “India-Israel CEOs Forum,” which is expected to serve as a hub to foster trade and commerce.

“I will join with leading Indian and Israeli CEOs and startups to discuss our shared priority of expanding business and investment collaboration on the ground,” Modi wrote on Facebook. “In addition, I hope to get insights into Israel’s accomplishments in technology and innovation through on-site visits.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the inauguration of a defense industries of Israel pavilion during an arms fair held in the city of Bangalore, India, on February 18, 2015. Photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/FLASH90)
Then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the inauguration of a defense industries of Israel pavilion during an arms fair held in Bangalore, India, February 18, 2015. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/Flash90)

Modi, who visited Israel for the first time in 2006 as chief minister of Gujarat, is scheduled to land at around 4 p.m. in Tel Aviv, where he will be greeted by an official welcoming ceremony, attended by Netanyahu.

En route from the airport to Jerusalem, the two prime ministers will stop at the Mishmar Hashiva moshav to visit the Danziger Dan Flower Farm, one of Israel’s leading floriculture companies. Together with Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, the prime ministers will learn about the “innovative” way in which the flowers are produced there, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Once Modi and Netanyahu arrive in the capital, they will head to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. The two leaders will visit the Hall of Names and participate in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance and tour the Children’s Memorial. At 8 p.m., Modi and Netanyahu will deliver statements to the media at the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street, before dining together.

Relatives and friends of Holocaust survivors place flowers and candles on names of concentration camps seen on the floor of the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 28, 2014. Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Relatives and friends of Holocaust survivors place flowers and candles on names of concentration camps seen on the floor of the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 28, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Wednesday morning, Modi will hold a working meeting with President Reuven Rivlin. From the President’s Residence, he will head back to the King David Hotel for another working meeting with Netanyahu. After the two leaders have lunch together, they will attend a ceremony during which a series of bilateral agreements will be signed, and deliver statements to the press.

In the afternoon, Modi 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. The 16th-century wooden structure has “an exquisitely carved and painted ceiling directly influenced by the decorations of mosques and Hindu temples,” according to the Israel Museum.

A crumbling old Cochin synagogue (photo credit: CC-BY, Emmanuel Dyan via Flickr)
A crumbling old Cochin synagogue (photo credit: CC-BY, Emmanuel Dyan via Flickr)

“The Jewish community in India was always welcomed with warmth and respect and never faced any persecution,” Modi and Netanyahu wrote in their joint article Tuesday. “The Jews of Indian origin in Israel are proud of their heritage and have left an indelible imprint on both societies. Both communities serve as a human bridge between our nations.”

On Wednesday evening, at around 8, the two prime ministers will 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.

In Tel Aviv, he will also meet with diamond merchants from Gujarat, a state in western India. “I am particularly looking forward to interacting with the large vibrant Indian diaspora in Israel that represents an enduring link between our two peoples,” Modi wrote on Facebook.

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.

In Tel Aviv, 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.

The attack on the Indian city’s Chabad House was part of a mass attack in the city by a Pakistani Islamist group that left 166 dead and hundreds injured. In addition to the Holtzbergs, four other Jewish visitors to the Chabad House were killed in the attack.

Moshe Holtzberg seen on his first day at first grade in the city of Migdal Haemek on August 26,2012. Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, who was five months pregnant, were killed during the November 2008 Mumbai attacks by Pakistani Islamic terrorists. Their two-year-old son Moshe survived the attack after being rescued by his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel. (Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)
Moshe Holtzberg seen on his first day at first grade in the city of Migdal Haemek on August 26,2012. Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, who was five months pregnant, were killed during the November 2008 Mumbai attacks by Pakistani Islamic terrorists. Their two-year-old son Moshe survived the attack after being rescued by his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel. (Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)

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 laid down their lives during the liberation of Haifa in 1918,” as he explained in his Facebook post.

On their way back to Tel Aviv, Modi and Netanyahu will stop at Olga Beach to visit a water desalination unit operated by G.A.L. Water Technologies. “Israel’s extreme water crises in the past place it in a unique position to understand India’s quest for efficient water solutions,” the two prime ministers wrote. “The cost effective adaptation of Israeli technology to India’s needs could create new solutions that we could use to help address the water challenges of other developing nations across the globe.”

Modi and Netanyahu will proceed to have lunch with Indian and Israeli executives at the Dan Hotel, before attending 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.

“India is a key export market for Israel,” said Economy Minister Eli Cohen. It is a country of 1.3 billion consumers, some 300 million of whom belong to the middle and upper-middle class, “with purchasing power equal to the middle class of Western economies,” he added.

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, left, inspects IDF troops with President Reuven Rivlin during the first official visit to Israel of an Indian leader, October 14, 2015 (Mark Neyman/GPO)
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, left, inspects IDF troops with President Reuven Rivlin during the first official visit to Israel of an Indian leader, October 14, 2015 (Mark Neyman/GPO)

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.

“This week’s historic visit, as we celebrate 25 years of full diplomatic relations between India and Israel, reflects not just the close cooperation of our governments, but also the great sympathy and affinity between our peoples,” the two prime ministers wrote.

“We are confident that 25 years from now, Indians and Israelis will look back on this visit as the first of many historical milestones that we reached together in the great friendship between our peoples.”

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