Orna Sagiv, the Israel consul general in Mumbai, described the year gone by as one of the “toughest” in her diplomatic career. Six Jews, four of them Israeli nationals, were killed in last year’s 26/11 attacks. She spoke to Hindustan Times about Indo-Israel ties in a post-26/11 scenario.
Are Jews feeling vulnerable in India?
There has never been anti-Semitism in India. But given our history, we never take such things for granted.
We do not view the 26/11 attacks as anti-Semitism as it was not carried out by Indians. It was part of the global terrorist wave and the radical Jihadist movement to attack Jewish targets across the world. Things are still coming to light. Now we hear that (David) Headley visited a Chabad House posing as a Jew. The Chabad House in Mumbai is now functioning from a discreet location. We advise our citizens to exercise caution and to avoid staying in over-crowded areas.
How did the 26/11 attacks impact Israel’s relationship with India?
We have not seen a decline in the number of Israelis coming to India post 26/11. Annually, about 40,000 Israeli tourists come to India. This despite travel advisories being issued in September and October this year against travel to India by the Counter Terrorism Bureau working with the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem.
How did you and your staff cope with the attack on the Jewish Chabad House?
We knew the Rabbi (Gavriel Holtzberg) and his wife (Rivka) on a personal level. Between them and me you can see the entire range — from the ultra orthodox to secular Jews. But in times of strife, we come together as a family. Their death was very traumatic as the Rabbi’s last calls for help were to some of our staff members. The staff has taken a long time to recover. A team of Israeli psychologists came down to help us overcome the trauma. This is not the first attack on India or Jews. But even now, there is not a day when we don’t speak about it.
The Israeli media criticised India’s handling of the attacks. Is that still a sore point?
Israel is a democracy and people are free to voice their opinion. The Israeli government has appreciated the efforts undertaken by India. It was an extremely difficult situation.
The attacks went on for over 60 hours. We would have liked it to be solved earlier. Not many counter-terrorism experts have had to deal with so many targets under attack.
Of course, there are lessons to be learnt. It is easy to criticise, but everyone did their best.