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Striking a high note

In the words of the founding father of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, “If you will it, it is no dream”. This year we celebrate Herzl’s 150th birthday, together with 62 years of Israel’s independence, and 18 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and India. Mark Sofer writes.

india Updated: May 12, 2010 03:11 IST

In the words of the founding father of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, “If you will it, it is no dream”. This year we celebrate Herzl’s 150th birthday, together with 62 years of Israel’s independence, and 18 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and India. The number 18 in Jewish tradition signifies life, and I can proudly say that never have the relations between our two countries been more alive than they are today.

Mutual civilian trade has multiplied over 20-fold, cultural relations are booming, agricultural ties on both the federal and state level are unprecedented and other fields of joint interest such as tourism, defence, homeland security, political interaction, telecommunication and academic cooperation have blossomed far beyond expectations.

Underlying these dynamics lies the high repute in India for Israeli achievements in the fields of water management, drip-irrigation technologies, “making the desert bloom” and hi-tech innovation, coupled with the awe and admiration in Israeli society for Indian culture and mentality and its capacity to absorb and adapt state-of-the-art technology. At the basis of Israeli and Indian society lie the highest respect for education and the family, a shared value system of democracy and freedom of expression, and striving for just peace for themselves and their neighbours in their respective conflict-ridden regions.

While mutual civilian trade has topped the $4 billion mark and two-way investment is not lagging far behind, I feel perhaps the greatest sense of pride in the burgeoning agricultural activity between us. Since the signing of the Indo-Israel Agriculture Cooperation Agreement in 2007, this cooperation has grown dramatically. Aimed at the small farmer, it encompasses the setting-up of excellence centres in such fields as horticulture, floriculture, post-harvest management, training, yield improvement and new technologies, with the emphasis on Haryana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
At the private sector level too, Indo-Israeli agricultural cooperation has reached new heights as seen in the establishment in Rajasthan of seven olive plantations, using the world’s most advanced technologies or by the establishment of a dairy farm in Andhra Pradesh using Israeli technology that brings yields of over 40 litres of milk per cow per day. Israeli drip-irrigation systems are prevalent throughout India and our new area of cooperation — water management and technologies — offers great promise in this era of rising food prices.

But over and above the practical ramifications of Indo-Israel cooperation lies the friendship between our people. Annually 40,000 Israeli tourists visit India. This ‘pilgrimage’ to India is common for young people after their national service and for their parents who come to discover ‘Incredible India’s’ past and are fascinated with its present. India is a big hit in Israel. There are local variations of the palak paneer and masala dosa in the numerous small Indian restaurants throughout the country. Bollywood films are watched on cable TV channels and the faculties of Indian studies are exceptionally popular among Israeli students.

In the final analysis, bilateral relations must be dedicated, primarily, to the betterment of the welfare of our respective populations. It is against this background that Indo-Israel relations can look to the future with a true sense of enhanced optimism.

It is tragic that the resolution of the conflicts in South and West Asia has yet to be achieved. In the Middle East, the rise of extremism, the polarisation and mistrust are all deeply troubling, but I am of the firm belief there are enough pragmatists on both sides of the divide who can — and will — turn the tide away from demonisation toward confidence–building and, eventually, accommodation.
It is my hope and prayer that this year will bring together Israel, the Palestinians and the wider Arab world in a just and lasting peace for the benefit of the children of all the peoples in our war-torn region.

Mark Sofer is Ambassador of Israel to India
The views expressed by the author are personal