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Why a powerful American Jewish group is supporting Modi's San Jose gig

Kunal Majumder | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 4:52 IST

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the Indian diaspora in San Jose on 27 September, he will have an interesting ally in the audience - the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). The Indo-American Community of West Coast has over 300 partner organisations supporting it for the event. Jewish lobbying firm ZOA stands out as the only one with no Indian or Hindu background or direct stake in India's economic growth story.

Information about organisations supporting the event is available on www.pmmodiinca.org, a website shared by the PM on his Facebook page two days before he left for the US-Ireland trip.

Photo: website

What is ZOA?

Founded in 1897, the Zionist Organization of America is one of the oldest pro-Israeli organisations in the United States and an important member of the powerful Jewish lobby. According to its website, ZOA "works to strengthen US-Israeli relations, through educational activities, public affairs programs, working every day on Capitol Hill".

Considered to be on the far-right, the organisation was recently in news for helping Republican presidential candidates Donald J Trump and Ted Cruz organise a protest against the Obama-backed Iran nuclear deal. ZOA also demanded the sacking of Fox News' Ann Coulter after she blasted, on Twitter, the Republican politicians for focusing too much on Israel during a debate earlier this month.

Jewish lobby and Modi

During Modi's last visit to the US, one of his key engagements (apart from a meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) was an interaction with the representatives of the powerful Jewish lobby. Rumours about an informal understanding between India and the Jewish organisations have long been the talk of the town in both Washington DC and New Delhi but never before had an Indian prime minister openly met with the lobby. Modi reportedly urged the representatives to help push for bettering India-US and India-Israel ties.

Within two months of the meeting, American Jewish Committee (AJC), one of the oldest and most powerful Jewish groups, reportedly sent letters to top US Congress members claiming that India and Israel were natural allies and both, along with the US, shared fundamental values, including religious and ethnic pluralism, electoral democracy and market-based economies.

Israel and Modi

Though India's policy towards Israel has bi-partisan approval (bilateral relationship was established in 1992 by the Congress government), ties between the two countries warmed after Modi's win in the 2014 general election. Within four months, Modi met Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nation General Assembly in New York - the first such meeting between an Indian and an Israeli PM in 11 years. The American Jewish Tablet magazine hailed the meeting with the news headline, "The Most Important Thing Netanyahu did in New York wasn't at the UN".

The very next month, Home Minister Rajnath Singh was sent to Israel, where he met the top leadership of the country.

While the Indian media was abuzz with rumours that Modi would visit Israel soon, the government announced plans for President Pranab Mukherjee's trip instead. Mukherjee will be the first Indian head of state to visit Israel in October, 2015. Ariel Sharon was the first Israeli leader to visit New Delhi in 2003 - coincidentally also when the BJP was in power at the Centre.

Why does Modi love Israel?

There are many theories floated by Hindutva advocates about the fratenal love between Jews and Hindus. However, Modi's relationship with Israel can be traced back to his days as the chief minister of Gujarat. Most of India-Israel trade is driven either by defence spending or precious stones - Gujarat being the hub for the latter.

But Modi strengthened the trade ties by inviting investment from Israeli companies to build desalination plants, semiconductor plants; he even gave them a contract to build a new port. In 2006, he also went on a five-day tour of the country and attended an agriculture technology conference.

No Indian prime minister has ever openly endorsed a powerful Jewish lobby; New Delhi's has long been sensitive to the Palestinian cause as well as the Muslim Middle East. But Modi is not really known for his subtleties, be it his politics or policy.

First published: 23 September 2015, 5:20 IST
Kunal Majumder @kunalmajumder

Editor for Speed News aka Catch Live and Operations at Catch, Kunal enjoys measuring his life in numbers. Of his 30 years of life, 12 have been spent working, 9 of them in journalism. The remaining 3 were spent in 2 call centres, talking to British and Australians about insurance and cellphones. In his journalistic capacity, Kunal has worked at 3 publications and headed 2 online teams. The '3' includes Images Multimedia, Tehelka and DNA. The '2' includes Tehelka and DNA. Catch is Kunal's 6th workplace, where he will head his 3rd team as speed news editor. As a reporter, he won 2 awards - Statesman Award for Rural Reporting and UNFPA-Laadli Award for Gender Sensitivity. That's his story in Prime Numbers (a section on this site from which he's taken inspiration).