India's Israel Policy
by P.R. Kumaraswamy
New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. 376 pp. $55.
Reviewed by Hussein Solomon
University of the Free State, South Africa
India's bilateral, under-explored relationship with Israel is wrapped in myths that Kumaraswamy, associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, debunks in his authoritative study. He also answers a number of questions: Why did India wait for far-reaching international changes before modifying its policy of non-recognition toward Israel? Is there a pattern in India's new-found relationship with Israel? How relevant has the role played by the domestic Muslim population been in shaping India's Israel policy?
Kumaraswamy covers the period 1920-92, dividing it into four phases: (1) India's nationalist struggle and an unfavorable disposition toward Jewish political aspirations in Palestine; (2) the formation of the state of Israel in May 1948 and Prime Minister Nehru's assurances in March 1952 of normalized relations with Israel; (3) the decision in 1952 to defer recognition of Israel while Delhi's attitude toward Jerusalem hardened; (4) Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's reversal of the traditional policy and establishment of full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992.
Kumaraswamy demonstrates the relationship's complexities with its public and private realms frequently diverging. New Delhi's non-recognition of Israel in 1949 did not prevent it from seeking agricultural assistance from the Jewish state. Nor did public denunciations of Israel prevent Nehru from seeking military assistance from David Ben-Gurion in 1962 during the Sino-Indian conflict. The lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries did not prevent India's external intelligence arm—the Research and Analysis Wing—from sending its personnel to Israel for specialized training, especially following the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984.
Kumaraswamy's chronological divisions could use some fine-tuning. As the author himself notes, the groundwork to establish diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 was prepared during the tenure of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who undertook a number of significant, conciliatory initiatives toward Israel. Thus the rather long third phase (1952-92) should perhaps have been divided further.
Additionally, while the author does examine the role of international factors on the bilateral relationship between Delhi and Jerusalem, he treats them as too minor a factor. As one of the first countries to escape the yoke of colonialism, India sought to burnish its "anti-imperialist" credentials. In the period following the Suez crisis, when Israel worked together with former colonial powers Britain and France, New Delhi was compelled to adopt an anti-Israeli stance so it could be seen as a leader of the anti-imperialist forces. The study would have benefited from an expansion on this international context and how the external environment constrained New Delhi's foreign policy in its bilateral ties with Israel.
Despite this minor critique, the book remains the definitive account of bilateral relations between India and Israel and serves as the authoritative study on the subject.
Related Topics: Israel & Zionism, South Asia
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