Sunday, October 03, 2004

"Anti-Semitism was and still is an unknown concept to India"

A piece that I recently wrote for the paper on visiting Israeli ambassador to India Daniel Danieli:

One of the lofty dream’s of Israel’s founders, as mentioned by its first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, was to make the Negev Desert bloom. Ever since it came into being in 1948, Israel has sought to inch closer to that dream – trying to make the semi-arid region, which comprises nearly 60 per cent of the tiny country, more of an asset than a liability.

With innovative projects like growing edible cacti that require less water compared to traditional crops such as cotton, Israel is now looking forward to share its agricultural successes with Rajasthan. “Israel and Rajasthan have many similar climatic and geographical conditions,” said David Danieli, the Israeli ambassador to India. He returned to Delhi on Tuesday after a two-day official visit to the state to explore opportunities to develop agricultural practice here with Israeli support.

Some of the areas that Israel seeks to help Rajasthan include drip irrigation, water management and agro-genetic research. “Post harvesting aspects such as storage, packaging and marketing will also feature. It is a holistic and more productive agricultural approach,” the ambassador said. He extended invitations to certain agricultural experts to visit Israel and study their success stories, some of which include drip irrigation and recycling sewage water for irrigation.

Israel is also keen to tap further the potential of tourism in Rajasthan. “Coming from a semi-arid region, Israelis instinctively travel to places like Goa, Manali and Kerala but Rajasthan has a lot to offer too,” Danieli said. “The idea is not to make it in a single shot. One visit cannot bring about the results that we are working for,” he added. Jaipur already features as an important destination in the gem trade between Indian and Israel.

Praising India for never persecuting the Jews, Danieli said that it is “relatively more difficult to an Israeli diplomat anywhere else in the world”. “Anti-Semitism was and still is an unknown concept to India,” he added. Israel currently has around 70,000 Jews of Indian descent. Most of them were from Bombay, Cochin and Calcutta and emigrated to Israel in the 1960s. He informed that migrations still continue but are few at around 10 each year.

Commenting on the controversial West Bank barrier that Israel is building, Danieli stressed it was not, as perceived by some, an attempt to delineate political borders. “It is a temporary and removable security line. Were it to be built precisely on the pre-June 1967 borders, then it could have been a political line. The exclusive logic of the wall is to counter terror,” he said.

The ambassador also criticised the recent International Court of Justice ruling that termed the barrier a breach of international law. “Not a single sentence of the extensive 62-page report mentions the term terrorism,” he said. “The idea that Palestinian property is more important than Israeli lives is absurd,” Danieli added. “Moreover, the wall has brought down terror attacks by nearly 90 per cent,” he claimed.


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