Jerusalem’s famed King David Hotel welcomed India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week as the leader of the world’s largest democracy made his much-anticipated visit to the Jewish state. Israelis are fairly accustomed to the world’s leaders making whistle-stop diplomatic visits, but it’s hard to overstate the importance of Modi’s visit; the first to Israel by an Indian prime minister.
Principally, this is a celebration of democracy. Between Bangladesh and Morocco, India and Israel are the only two non-Muslim countries and both are flourishing democracies. At a time of great uncertainty and instability worldwide, it is warming that both prime ministers have embarked on extensive world tours to promote the virtues of these two great democracies. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a series of fruitful visits to emerging African countries, Modi is running out of countries that he hasn’t visited since his election in 2014.
In the UK, the Hindu and Jewish communities have formed a strong bond, largely due to our shared values and mutual admirations, which have helped underpin a vital diplomatic alliance. Both are very successful communities because of integration with the host community. The commonalities between our communities led to the Indo-Jewish Association UK. It is therefore very much in the UK’s interests to ensure we not only support this friendship, but look to join in.
The economic opportunities are vast. Despite their gulf in geographic size, both countries boast growing economies and invest significantly in the technology and space sector. Israel may be the second largest defence supplier to India after Russia, but there is significant scope for trade growth in other industries. In 2015, the two nations began negotiating an extensive bilateral free trade agreement.
As the ‘start-up nation’, Israel boasts the world’s most groundbreaking high-tech companies. The UK grasped the potential for partnerships between British and Israeli tech companies in 2011 when it opened the UK Israel Tech Hub – its first such one in the world. To build on this success, the UK announced earlier this year it would create a global network of tech hubs, and given India’s own burgeoning tech industry, the country is likely to be high on the list.
Utilising Israeli tech, India can make huge strides in major national projects, including cleaning up the Ganges River and general water management.
Israelis looking for adventure after their IDF service have for years headed to India for its beautiful scenery, history, and culture. Israel offers its versions of these in abundance. As ties warm, India’s growing middle class will hopefully be encouraged by its government to consider Israel as a tourist destination. We’re looking forward to Bollywood coming to the Holy Land.
As the UK lays the groundwork for post-Brexit free trade deals with some of the world’s major economies, both India and Israel will be increasingly important strategic partners. Given our shared interests in defence, cyber, health, fintech and many more, one can expect our three countries will work ever more closely for shared benefit. Moreover, India, Israel and the UK share the same core values of democracy and the rule of law.
We’re natural partners on the world stage.
- Lord Polak CBE is honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel and Lord Popat is the founding chairman of Conservative Friends of India