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American Jews Are Key Advocates of U.S.-India Ties

Wed July 9, 2003 04:08 PM ET

By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent WASHINGTON (Reuters)

 

When India's deputy prime minister was in Washington last month, his brief visit included dinner at the elite Cosmos Club, courtesy of the American Jewish Committee - AJC.

Although L.K. Advani had come to town largely for talks with President Bush and his key aides, he made time for the influential pro-Israel lobbying group and thus underscored intensified relations among the three democracies.

As ties between India and the United States, on the one hand, and India and Israel, on the other hand, have improved significantly in recent years, the AJC has been a steady, largely unheralded, advocate of this trend.

"It's a natural alliance between Israel and India," said Jason Isaacson, the committee's director of government and international affairs.

"It's about trade and common interests between democracies (and), complimenting that is the growing relationships between Indian Americans and American Jews," as well as between the United States and India, he said in a telephone interview.

The committee had staged many meetings with leading Indian figures, Isaacson has visited India seven times since 1995 and the AJC plans to set up a liaison office in India this year.

The organization, which claims more than 100,000 members, is also renovating a school in Gujarat, where minority Muslims have been the victims of ethnic violence.

As evidence these ties have "come of age," the AJC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, another leading pro-Israel lobby group, and the U.S.-India Political American Organization plan a joint reception for Congress on July 16.

India's national security adviser, Shri Brajesh Mishra, speaking at the AJC's annual meeting on May 8, hailed a "historical affinity" between India and the Jewish people and noted India is one of a few countries with no history of anti-Semitism.

COLD WAR RESTRAINTS

Cool toward each other until the early 1990s, India and Israel now have full diplomatic ties and broad economic and defense cooperation and India hopes Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will soon make an official visit, Mishra said.

Two-way trade is more than $1 billion annually, and Israel is especially keen to cultivate India as a market for its defense industry.

The United States, which must approve Israeli weapons sales that include American technology, recently allowed the transfer to India of the Phalcon Airborne Early Warning, Command and Control System, an estimated $1 billion deal.

But U.S. officials are divided over letting Israel sell India the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system because it may violate international missile curbs and because of fears India could pass the technology on to third countries, like Iran.

Although Israel, like the United States, considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism bent on acquiring nuclear arms, Isaacson is restrained about India's relations with Tehran.

"In a perfect world India wouldn't have those ties but we live in an imperfect world. We hope the contacts permit the Indians to carry certain messages to the Iranians and help them see U.S. and western concerns," he said.

In addition to economic benefits, Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution suspect’s intelligence cooperation also binds India and Israel since "they have a common enemy in Islamic radicalism."

But he expressed concern this could degenerate into an anti-Pakistan alliance of Hindus and Jews against Muslims.

 


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