Ambassador Riva Ganguly Das, India’s consul general in New York, told 100 members of the American Jewish Committee’s Metro NJ Region that while her country considers Israel and the United States important partners “in endeavors that are intrinsic to our national vision, there is a huge potential that remains untapped.”
Speaking at the region’s annual meeting on Nov. 15 at the Orange Lawn Tennis Club in South Orange, Das addressed “India, the United States, and Israel: Robust Democracies and Natural Allies.”
Her appearance came just hours after Israeli President Reuven Rivlin began a state visit to India and meetings with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee. In their first meeting, the two leaders discussed joining forces in the fight against terrorism.
“We all know that India and Israel came into being through the trauma of conflict, division, and human suffering,” said Das. “Although our leaders adopted different methods of attaining nationhood, they were inspired by the same human ideals.”
“We admire the way the Jewish people, from the depths of unspeakable suffering, with a strong spirit, built a nation with a thriving, prosperous society that leads the world in many fields,” Das told the AJC gathering. She noted that some members of the Indian-American community “would love to emulate and learn some of the best practices of American Jews.”
Since India and Israel officially began diplomatic ties in 1992, “cooperation has grown steadily,” she said, especially in the field of military weaponry.
“From being a country that was only buying U.S. defense equipment, we are now looking at co-production of technology,” said Das. “India has been declared a partner, and this has opened up many new opportunities for the two countries…. We have opened up our defense sector for foreign investment for the first time.”
Das said another strong connection between India and Israel and India and the United States is in information technology. “We feel we are part of the U.S. technology success story,” she said, calling it “really the future of the world.” Both India and Israel have invested in building “knowledge economies,” with Israel becoming a “high-tech powerhouse.”
Noting there are some four million Indians living in the United States, Das said, “The Indian-American community has emerged as a viable force by sheer dint of its enterprise, industriousness, and discipline, as well as intellectual achievements…. We consider them a very important asset in our bilateral relationship with the United States.”
Das said that the 80,000 Jews who moved from India to Israel are very much a part of Israeli society, with members of the older generation often holding onto aspects of their Indian culture while younger people assimilate more completely into mainstream Israeli life.
Addressing the opportunities for American and Israeli entrepreneurs in India, Das said that in her country, “economic and commercial relations are growing at a very fast pace. India is one of the very attractive countries for big business,” with special emphasis on research and high technology.
One issue that was not raised was that 15 percent of the 1.3 billion people who make up the Indian population are Muslims. This may have influenced India’s voting record at the United Nations, where the country, rather than voting against, has abstained on recent votes calling for Palestinian recognition at the Human Rights and Economic and Social Councils.
“India’s relationship with Israel is complex and reflects different, competing considerations,” said John Rosen, director of AJC’s New Jersey area in an e-mail to NJJN.
“India has always had to consider its large 250 million Muslim population and the many Muslim majority countries that border it when casting votes at the UN,” he wrote. “Because of that, India has often sided in the past with the anti-Israel voices at the UN. Lately, however, there are signs that India is taking more nuanced, neutral positions that are more in line with the very positive behind-the-scenes relationship that it is building with Israel.”
Prior to Das’s address, one past region president, Kenneth Peskin of Summit, paid tribute to another, Buzz Warren of Bloomingdale, for his years of service to the organization.
Peskin saluted Warren for developing AJC’s diplomatic outreach program in New Jersey, which began when the organization forged relationships with four foreign nations. “Because of the excellence with which it was done, we now have a responsibility of relating to seven countries,” said Peskin.
After accepting a menora as a gift of recognition, Warren described the ways his career as a creative director at Grey Advertising in New York connected to his volunteer work for several Jewish organizations, including the New York Board of Rabbis and the United Jewish Appeal as well as the AJC.
Pointing to full-page newspaper ads mounted on easels, Warren spoke of his work on AJC campaigns against hate, opposing the 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, and in support of Israel.
Wearing a lapel button with the word “HATE” encircled and crossed out by a diagonal red line, Warren picked up a copy of an old New York Times ad that was a companion piece. It said, “Let’s make this a sign of the times.”
He noted that the ad — cosigned by AJC and interfaith and Catholic and Protestant national organizations — “referenced a troubled economy, millions of Americans facing hardships and pain, lamenting recent acts of racial, religious, and ethnic hatred. Coming off our recent election, does something seem deja vu about the whole thing?” he asked.