Richard Benkin, human rights advocate and author of A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: The Murder of Bangladesh's Hindus, was interviewed by Benjamin Baird, deputy director of Islamist Watch, in a July 23 Middle East Forum webinar (video) about growing Jewish and Hindu solidarity in the face of Islamist threats.
According to Benkin, who works with the Hindu American Foundation to foster ties with the Jewish community in Chicago, Jews and Hindus are natural allies because the two ethno-religious groups "have similar values and face the same adversaries," namely Islamists.
Abroad, Jewish-Hindu solidarity manifests itself in strong relations between Israel and India. Security and intelligence cooperation between the two has been growing for many years, particularly in the aftermath of the November 2008 Islamist terror attacks in Mumbai. Following Narendra Modi's election as India's prime minister in 2013, "relations between India and Israel really flourished." Benkin cited a 2018 pro-Israel rally held in Calcutta, India that drew 70,000 Hindus.
Jews and Hindus "have similar values and face the same adversaries."
In the United States, Jews and Hindus face a common threat from lawful Islamist groups such as the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Indian-American Muslim Council, Stand With Kashmir, and Friends of Kashmir. Partnering with progressive organizations that also include leftist Jews and Hindus, these groups vilify Israel and India and seek to further their agenda by gaining influence in government.
After having "failed at the federal level" to pass resolutions condemning India, American Islamists have recently focused on pressuring local governments, particularly city councils dominated by the progressive left, to endorse resolutions "vilifying India and accusing it of human rights abuses ... [and] accusing the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] majority government of being a Hindutva group [an ideology representing Hindu cultural nationalism] which basically persecutes the Muslim minority in that country."
The Islamists made considerable headway in six states, but suffered a major loss last year in Chicago when Jewish and Hindu grassroots activists mobilized to defeat an anti-India city council resolution. A Chicago oncologist and Hindu community leader, Dr. Bharat Barai, contacted Belkin to enlist the aid of the Jewish community. Partnering with the Middle East Forum's Counter-Islamist Grid project, they organized a letter-writing campaign that resulted in 12,000 constituent letters to protest the Islamist resolution.
Jewish-Hindu solidarity is a two-way street. Benkin said that after the resolution's defeat, Dr. Barai was notified by a council member that the same Islamist coalition was also "planning to introduce an anti-Israel resolution." Dr. Barai informed Benkin of this initiative and told him, "Just as you stood with us, the Hindu community will stand with you." The sentiment was further illustrated by Hindu participation in pro-Israel rallies during the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. "We didn't have stronger advocates for Israel than the American Hindu community," said Benkin.
Islamists and their allies see Hindu-Jewish solidarity as a threat to their agenda.
Not surprisingly, Islamists and their allies see Hindu-Jewish solidarity as a threat to their agenda and are pulling out all the stops to disrupt it. The Islamophobia Studies Center of Berkeley, California, has criticized Jewish and Hindu solidarity as "steeped in fascism and religious supremacy," an accusation Benkin dismisses as "an old slander" by Islamists who want to sow division and appeal to their progressive fellow travelers.
Anti-Hindu activists have also spread "false propaganda that India is inhospitable to Christians." However, while acknowledging that Hindus have developed a mistrust of proselytizing in India stemming from the country's occupation by the British and before that the Muslim Mughal empire, Benkin emphasized that Christians, Muslims, and other religious minorities are able to practice their faith freely in India.
Asked about whether the level of cooperation between India's Modi government and the Trump administration would be similarly found in the Biden administration, Benkin expressed concern that Biden "has to negotiate with a growing ... progressive faction in his party" and questioned whether he can find a way to "mollify them without empowering them." He noted that many top-level administration appointments who are of Pakistani and South Asian heritage have "problematic" views, but said it "remains to be seen" what influence they will have in administration decisions.
Benkin believes the recent activism seen in the American-born Hindu community will continue to grow stronger. Defeating the Islamist resolution in Chicago was only one example of the Hindu community saying, "We need to take a stand." Seeing that the Jewish community faces a similar boycott campaign by Islamists and progressives, "they were smart enough to say [to the Jewish community], 'Let's ally on this and on future issues.'"
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.