Discussion on Zionism & Hindutva

Zionism and Hindutva: Communal cousins

Print edition : September 27, 2019

Prof. Gadi Taub and Dr Subramanian Swamy during the discussion in Mumbai on August 26. Photo: Vivek Bendre

The invitation to the discussion.

A little-known organisation in Mumbai gets two high-profile speakers to talk on the similarities between Hindutva and Zionism at an event in the University of Mumbai.

THE imposing 19th century Victorian, neo-Gothic convocation hall of the University of Mumbai was recently the venue for a talk on Zionism and Hindutva. The event could have passed off as just another seminar. It was anything but. The keynote speakers were Dr Subramanian Swamy, a Rajya Sabha member, and Gadi Taub, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Together, they spewed all kinds of nationalist theories to a packed audience who often broke out in applause.

It was clear halfway through the discussion that the connection between India and Israel went much deeper than buying arms and tackling terror. The two countries appear to be getting closer for mutual benefit. Both are currently under right-wing regimes and have, for obvious reasons, gravitated towards each other. Although the talk was on ideology, as the evening wore on it seemed as though Israel had partnered with the ruling party to propagate it agenda. Several disturbing aspects emerged from the talk: the rapt gathering lapping up the arguments, some of them factually and historically incorrect; the state-sanctioned venue; the speakers constantly vilifying liberals; and the justification of decisions such as the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution.

Interestingly, the university hall is not easily available for private events. It seems odd that a little-known organisation called the Indo-Israeli Friendship Association was able to not only book the venue but also invite high-profile speakers and get the Israeli Consul General in Mumbai to inaugurate the event. How does such a blatant right-wing propaganda event get allowed while a Dalit protest in Pune sees the arrest of 10 activists who have been in jail for over a year?

The red flag should have been the posters announcing the event. The well-known Zionist Theodor Herzl was placed alongside Hindutva ideologue V.D. Savarkar. Adding to the mix was the moderator Vaibhav Purandare, a journalist and the author of Savarkar: The True Story of the Father of Hindutva. Purandare did not lose an opportunity to speak of Savarkar’s contribution to the development of the Hindutva movement. Yet, it was the speakers, particularly Gadi Taub, who kept the audience spellbound with his interpretation of nationalism and the similarities between Zionism and Hindutva.

“This is the first time in recent years we are seeing such a provocative and supremacist tone of discussion. Israel has been working very hard on Brand Israel, portraying it as a liberal and progressive country. This talk is telling in that at its root it remains a country that practises apartheid and is completely supportive of the Hindutva ideology,” said Apoorva P.G., coordinator with the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) National Committee. BDS is an international movement that works to end support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and to pressure Israel to comply with international law. “Having it in a university convocation hall shows the support the organisers get. We are seeing the capture of institutions. This is another example [of that],” said Apoorva.

Israel has clearly found a space in India for this kind of propaganda. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India and India buying arms that are used on the border with Pakistan are obvious indicators of the close ties between the two countries. It is unfortunate because until 1992 India did not recognise Israel as a nation. In recent years, Israel is deeply investing in India. The connections, economic, military and cultural, are everywhere. For some time, we saw Israel trying to whitewash what it is really about and trying to portray itself as a liberal nation. But this kind of glorification of nationalism and the Zionist movement shows that a much more sinister agenda is at play, said Apoorva.

“It may seem like one talk, but it is setting a precedent for more. Judging by the audience, this is certainly a trend that raises concern,” said an activist in Mumbai who also attended the event. Alerting the media to the seminar, the BDS joined forces with the Indian Cultural Forum. They issued the following statement against the meeting:

“What does this imply for India and Indians? These ties are a realisation of the Brand Israel project, the apartheid state’s full-fledged strategy to whitewash its occupation, apartheid and settler colonialism against Palestinian people with ‘growing partnerships’ around the world. This finds an eager partner in the Modi regime, which is buying the largest share of Israel’s weapons exports, allocating budget to its unsustainable and corporate farming model and even bringing in the Hindi film industry to cover up for Israel’s crimes.

“The weapons that Israel ‘field tests’ on Palestinian bodies are today being deployed in Kashmir. The abrogation of Article 370 and 35(A), and the consequent threat of demographic changes, is also out of the Israeli manual of creating ‘facts on ground’ through illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. The fantasy of Israelising India is a prized one for this regime and its supporters.” The statement has been signed by about 50 activists, journalists and intellectuals.

Beginning the discussion, Subramanian Swamy said India had a close connection with the Jewish people as the country welcomed them when they sought refuge hundreds of years ago. Speaking on Hinduisim, he said: “It is a belief system, we use it in our day-to-day activities, and like Zionism, it does not believe in active conversion.” He said that although India was not a Hindu state, its Constitution drew heavily from the religion. According to Subramanian Swamy, Article 25, which essentially grants citizens the freedom to practise any religion, is a provision taken from Hindu texts, which have always promoted all forms of equality.

Referring to the Mahabharata, he said a war was fought over Draupadi. It shows that ancient India gave women a high status. The Constitution says men and women must be treated equally. These are examples of how Hindu texts played a role in shaping modern India, he said. Subramanian Swamy justified the “ghar wapsi” movement, saying other religions that existed in the country were guilty of forced conversions. He claimed that many people had approached the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to find a way of making them Hindu again.

Gadi Taub began his talk on Zionism relatively calmly but eventually worked the audience into believing that modern nationalism was the way for a nation state to exist. “Democracy and nationalism are not against other. They are two sides of the same coin. Modern nationalism is the answer today and it is a vote for the common good.” He said nationalism would lead to a benign form of society and its absence would result in a violent society. Said Gadi Taub: “Only when people have their own state will they be happy. I am glad to see an increasing level of nationalism in India.” He said India and Israel had been kept apart for too long, and it was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the countries were allowed to be friends. Justifying Israel’s need to be a militarised state, he said: “We have never attempted to annihilate any country. We maintain a strong army because we have to face five countries constantly attacking us.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica defines Zionism as a Jewish nationalist movement that has had as its goal the creation and support of a Jewish national state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews. The political movement was formally established by the Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl in 1897, following the publication of his book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). An information booklet, which was available at the Mumbai event, quotes Herzl: “The Jews who wish for a State will have it. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes. The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.”