Written by Aron White
Last month, Israel took significant steps to solve humanitarian problems in Africa, and we drew attention to the fact that this was completely ignored by the UK media. This month, the pattern has continued, this time regarding Israel’s burgeoning ties with India.
With a population of 1.2 billion, India is the world’s second most populous country, and its highly rural population faces some of the largest humanitarian issues in the world. The numbers are staggering: 240 million Indians are not connected to electricity, 63 million Indians do not have access to clean water, and in 2016, 330 million Indians were affected by drought.
Raising living standards in India is one of the great social challenges of our time and, naturally, these issues have received much coverage in the UK press (see the links above, as well as here, here, here.)
Last week, six months after Prime Minister Modi’s historic trip to Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu became the second Israeli Prime Minister to visit India.
During his six-day trip, Netanyahu witnessed existing Israeli projects in India, and he and his delegation signed deals and announced new projects.
One area where Israel is very active is agricultural training. Netanyahu visited one of the Israeli Centres of Excellence, which provide know-how and training for Indian farmers. Israel is a world leader in drip-irrigation, water management, desalination and making the most of minimal resources, and these centres share this know-how with Indian farmers. Various states within India have in recent years announced large-scale projects based on the Israeli technologies and ideas shared. In a country in which 60% of its population work in agriculture, sharing Israeli farming techniques and technology make a vital contribution in raising Indian living standards. In his speech at the Gujarat Centre of Excellence, Netanyahu noted that Israel already has 20 such centres around India, and is continually opening more, with the number soon set to hit 30.
Many Israeli companies were also represented in the Israeli delegation, and they signed a number of deals during the trip. Watergen, an innovative Israeli company that literally produces water from thin air, signed a deal with Tata, the giant Indian company, to bring this innovative technology to Indian communities. This will help combat the threat of drought, which destroys lives and communities. This was just one of numerous deals signed during the visit.
To India, and its Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Netanyahu’s trip was clearly a major affair. When Netanyahu arrived, Modi tweeted: “Welcome to India, my friend Prime Minister Netanyahu. Your visit is historic and special. This visit will strengthen the close ties between our countries.”
The welcome Netanyahu received was extraordinary. President Modi broke with protocol to greet Netanyahu personally at the airport, and thousands of citizens lined the streets of his home state of Gujarat, waving Israeli flags and welcoming the Israeli leader. Such a welcome has now been provided for three leaders – Mr Xi Jinping, President of China, Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, and now the Prime Minister of Israel.
It is surprising therefore that this visit received almost no coverage in the UK media at all. Solving humanitarian issues in India is something that is an important cause – but when Israel comes into the limelight, for its role in solving these issues, then suddenly the media falls quiet.
One reason for the silence may be that this trip runs against the narrative of Israel’s so-called “diplomatic isolation”. The picture that is often painted, of Israel as a side-lined, maligned country, is totally debunked when Israel’s Prime Minister is greeted with open arms by the Prime Minister of the second most populous country in the world. Streets lined with people waving Israeli flags is also a “shock to the system” – the media is more comfortable with photos of people burning Israeli flags, not waving them.
Netanyahu’s trip to India reveals two sides of Israel that do not receive enough media attention – Israel as a partner in solving the major humanitarian issues of the day, and Israel as a country that is quite popular in many parts of the world – facts which contradict the simplistic, one-sided narrative often presented by foreign journalists covering the region.
Aron White has a BSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of London (Lead College: LSE), and is a graduate of the Jewish Statesmanship Center in Jerusalem. His writings have been published at the Jerusalem Post, JNS, The Daily Caller and the Algemeiner.