Indian Jews Join Israeli Defence Forces; Further Strengthens India-Israel Ties

In 2014, a group of twelve members of India’s Bnei Menashe Jewish community had immigrated to Israel and have recently enlisted in the Kfir Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces.

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One of these new recruits, Baruch Chayim Gangte says “as a Jew, I felt a strong need to make aliyah (immigration to Israel) to Israel and fulfil my role in protecting my homeland as part of the Israel Defense Forces.”

The immigration of this group of 12 from India to Israel was undertaken by the Shavei Israel group, led by Michael Freund, who aims to provide assistance to Bnei Menashe Jews immigrate to Israel.

“Thus far, Shavei Israel has been blessed to bring more than 4,000 Bnei Menashe immigrants from India, and I truly hope that in the near future the new Israeli government will allow us to bring the rest of the community on aliyah, as well,” tells Freund.

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The formation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, roughly coincides with India’s freedom from the British rule in 1947 and since then a majority of Indian Jews living in regions like Kerala, Maharasthra, Kolkata and other places have migrated to Israel.

It is noted that between 1948 and 1952, about 2300 Indian Jews had made their way to their historic homeland of Israel. Now, after more than half a century, Israel has become a home to more than 80,000 Indian-origin Jews with ties stronger than simply religion.

“The 80,000+ strong Indian Jewish community here form a vital and important link between India and Israel. Both nations have excellent relations with over 25 years of full diplomatic relations. Relations have seen rapid growth across a broad spectrum of areas and the future vision of cooperation is of a strong hi-tech partnership as befits two knowledge economies,” said the Counsellor at the Indian embassy in Tel Aviv, Muanpuii Saiawi in 2019 at a book launch.

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India’s full-fledged diplomatic relation with Israel began in 1992. The Jewish Virtual Library mentions that “both countries see themselves as isolated democracies threatened by neighbours (Pakistan for India and Syria for Israel) that train, finance and encourage terrorism, therefore both countries also view their cooperative relationship as a strategic imperative.”

Since then, the strong and stable ties between India and Israel in the defence sector have not gone unnoticed. Further, Samuel C. Rajiv, an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses emphasizes that “the cooperation between the two countries in the defence sector is expected to further blossom.

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During 2002–07, India bought $5 bn worth of defence equipment from Israel, whose investments in India have grown to $3 bn. Total defence trade between the two countries is worth more than $ 9 bn. Moreover, there is a further possibility of high-tech cooperation such as in space technology and agriculture.”

He continues that the “bilateral relations between India and Israel hinge on three pegs – economic, defence and people to people contacts. India is Israel’s 10th largest trading partner. After the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries in 1992, civilian bilateral trade has grown to about $5 billion per year.

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With the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in the pipeline, this is expected to more than double in the near future.”

However, citizens of Israel like Ofra Albo, from Tel Aviv who has formerly served as a military personnel and regularly likes to travel to India tells EurAsian Times that “India and Indians hold a unique place in my heart, not only when I am in India but also when I am back here in Tel Aviv. It is just not the strong political ties but more of a humanly value to it.”