Balwan Nagial
Balwan Nagial

India has a history of no antisemitism

On Mar 25, 2021, the  Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) was presented by a group of over 200 eminent Jewish scholars of antisemitism studies and related fields, some of whom had been engaged in discussion since June 2020. They defined antisemitism as follows: “Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish,’ and made it clear that ‘while antisemitism has certain distinctive features, the fight against it is inseparable from the overall fight against all forms of racial, ethnic, cultural, religious and gender discrimination.” (Rohini Hensman, The Wire April 2021).

Since the start of the May conflict between Israel and Hamas, there have been numerous antisemitic incidents around the world related to the conflict. The perpetrators of these attacks deliberately targeted Jewish institutions in order to express their anger towards Israel.  Whenever anti-Israel actions target synagogues, Jewish community centers, kosher restaurants, Jewish-owned businesses, or individual Jews — in other words, holding Jews collectively responsible Israel’s actions — ADL considers such incidents as antisemitic. These actions intimidate Jews and prevent them from living openly and freely as Jews. ( ADL, June 1, 2021  https://www.adl.org)

India is one of the few countries with no record of antisemitism, as its society is known for openness and compassion. In this, India was inspired by her spiritual vision of ‘you and I’ & ‘one in many’. It is because of ideals like ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ that India looks upon the whole world as a family.

One of the most glorious aspects of India’s cultural history relates to the treatment that her nation and people gave to the religious and racial groups which came to India as refugees. Persecuted in their own countries, with their religious places were destroyed and fellow people were massacred, the Jews of Palestine, the Zoroastrians of Iran, Buddhists from Tibet and many others sought shelters in India, they all were attracted by our tradition of ‘tolerance and hospitality. These refugees could find their ‘hopes and aspiration’ fulfilled from India, where they were received with ‘love and respect’. “ I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.”( Swami Vivekananda Ji, In his opening address at Parliament of Religions at Chicago on Sept 11, 1893).

Assimilation and synthesis. Since Indian culture is sponsored and nourished by universal ‘tolerance and oneness’, therefore, Indian culture is not rigid and exclusive — neither racial nor socio-politically motivated by any central authority but only driven by one force called ‘spiritualism’-because it is always human and universal. History is the witness that the rigidity of cultures generally proceeds from the nations’ exclusiveness of traditions and political ambitions. Moreover, much of this exclusiveness is driven by racial superiority. Whereas spiritualism proceeds from the awareness of the divine in the hearts of human beings cutting across caste, creed and religion.

Rigidity and exclusivity are the primary sources of unending inter-cultural conflicts. “Rigid cultures behave with each other like billiard balls, whose only possible mutual relationship is collusion” (Benard Russell). The resilience and adaptability of Indian culture emanate from assimilation and synthesis, which made Indian Civilisation a living factor of life in the Indian Subcontinent. Unlike those of Babylonians, Egyptians, Greek and others, which are instinct and now are read in history only. Cultural rigidity is the byproduct of a logical view of ‘you or I’, but I am proud that our ancestors chose ‘you and I’.

According to the census 2011, the Jewish community in India, which, has about 4,650 members. The Jewish community in India is one among many groups who had come from outside the country’s modern territorial borders and made India their home. However, what marks the Jews out is their ability to blend into the region’s local culture. India has a legacy of three distinct ancient Jewish groups: the Bene Israel, the Cochin Jews, also called the Malabar Jews and the White Jews from Europe. Each group practised essential elements of  Judaism and had active synagogues. The Sephardic rites predominate among Indian Jews  More recent Jewish immigration to India includes the Baghdadi Jews, Bene Menashe, and Bene Ephraim. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Migrations created significant Jews from Persia, Afghanistan and Characin (Central Asia) in northern India and Kashmir. By the late 18th century, Bombay became the largest Jewish community in India. Bene Israel Jews lived in Bombay, as did Iraqi and Persian Jews. ( Jews Virtual Library).

The history of the Jews in India reaches back to ancient history. Judaism was one of the first foreign religions to arrive in India in recorded history. Indian Jews are a religious minority in India who have historically lived there without antisemitism from the local non-Jewish majority. The better-established ancient Jewish communities have assimilated many of the local traditions through cultural infusion. While some Indian Jews state that their ancestors arrived in India during the ancient  Kingdom of Judah, others identify themselves as descendants of Ancient Israel’s Ten Lost Tribes who arrived earlier. Some claim descent from Ancient Israel’s tribe of Menashe and are referred to as the Bnei Menashe. India’s Jewish population was around 20,000 in the mid-1940s and began to rapidly decline due to their migration to Israel after its creation in 1948.(Wikipedia)

“Israel is in my heart, India is in my blood,” says Ezekiel I Malekar, the Rabbi (head priest) of the Synagogue Judah Hyam Hall. The Rabbi, who has been the head secretary and caretaker of the synagogue since 1980 without any form of remuneration, claims that for the Jews in India, they are Indians first and Jews second. Looking back at the long history of association between Jews and Indians, he claims India is the most tolerant country in the world and one of the only places where Jews did not have to experience antisemitism. (Indian Express, Jul 5, 2017).

India-Israel Bilateral Relations.

India recognized Israel as a nation on Sept 17, 1950. Soon after that, the Jewish Agency set up an immigration office in Bombay, later changed into a Trade Office and then a Consulate. Embassies were opened in 1992 when full diplomatic relations. Since 1992, defense and agriculture formed the two main pillars of bilateral relations. In recent years, relations have seen swift growth across a broad spectrum of areas, and the future vision of the cooperation is of a robust hi-tech partnership that befits two economies. Political ties between the two countries are friendly. Prime Minister Modi undertook a historic first-ever visit by an Indian PM to Israel from 4-6 July 2017, during which the relationship upgraded to a strategic level and seven Agreements/MoUs were signed in the fields of R&D innovation, water, agriculture and space. Prime Minister of Israel, H.E. Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, visited India from 14-19 January 2018, during which four G2G agreements on cybersecurity, oil & gas cooperation, film co-production and air transport were signed, along with five other semi-government agreements. Before these visits, Hon’ble President Pranab Mukherjee paid a state visit to Israel in October 2015, while Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited India in November 2016. Increased high-level exchanges and ministerial visits on both sides have expanded cooperation in different functional areas such as trade, agriculture, S&T, culture and security. (Source M E A, India)

India’s envoy to United Nations TS Tirumurti highlighted India’s pluralistic fabric and framework of “pluralism, harmony and mutual acceptance”, claiming “India does not have any trace of antisemitism”. While addressing the World Jewish Congress, Tirumurti said, “India condemns all forms of antisemitism and all forms of discrimination on religious grounds anywhere in the world.”(Zee News, Nov 18, 2020).

However historically, there was a weakening of the culture of India since about 1000 AD but this did not hamper the process of assimilation but only slowed down. Under the stimulus of the modern national renaissance to make India home of a happy synthesis. This trend towards a total synthesis is based on the conviction that Indian culture, though undoubtedly great is partial and incomplete and invariably this is true for every culture.

About the Author
Colonel Balwan Nagial retired from the Indian Army in 2019 after serving for thirty years. Managed administration, security, project mgt throughout his service. He loves writing and contributing in newspapers and magazines in India. He loves Israeli culture.
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