In his address before the Knesset Plenum on Wednesday, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee said, ”the modern period witnessed our parallel struggles against British rule. Our leaders adopted different methods but were inspired by the same human values and ideals. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Mahatma Gandhi is the only world leader whose picture is hung in David Ben-Gurion’s desert home.”
”We admire the will and resolve you have shown in building your nation under difficult circumstances,” he said.
The Indian leader told the Knesset ”our countries should collaborate in the field of agriculture. Israeli technological advances can enhance India`s industrial production. Collaboration can create more jobs both in India and Israel.”
The Indian President continued to say that his country`s ”consistent policy has been to build a strong, substantive and mutually beneficial relationship with Israel. We will continue to do so through high level visits and exchanges so that India-Israel relations are accorded the utmost priority. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the establishment of full diplomatic relations, we both seek to expand the vision of our future partnership.”
He added that “whenever the Nobel Prizes have been announced, we have often seen the names of awardees who have studied in Israeli universities. As friends of Israel, we rejoice in the success of your scientists.”
As for tourism, Mukherjee said India “is delighted that Israeli citizens, particularly the younger generation, enjoy traveling to India. They rightly see India as a safe and welcoming destination where they always feel at home. I am told that Hebrew has been learned in some villages, and they even serve hummus.”
The Indian president spoke of his country’s Jewish community.
“The Jewish citizens who came to India landed on the western coast more than 2,000 years ago. Throughout their long history, the Jewish communities in India have maintained, developed and enriched their traditions with many Indian additions to their unique heritage. The Jewish people have been and will always be an integral part of India’s composite society,” he said.
Mukherjee mentioned the synagogue in Cochin, which he said is the only place in the world where there is a mosque, a church, a Hindu temple and a church on one street, and said the Jewish community of Mumbai has contributed to its architecture, banking, literature and Bollywood.
Mukherjee further said that India has always been a strong voice of democratic countries in multinational forums, adding that ”today`s UN should be more responsive to the challenges the world is facing now, and its structure as well as administrative and financial architecture need reform to make them more reflective of the changed world.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, who opened the special plenary session, said Israel and India have tightened their cooperation in various fields, including security and agriculture.
Turning to President Mukherjee, Edelstein said, ”The plenary hall before you best demonstrates that Israel is a democratic, pluralist and diverse country. Sitting side by side here are representatives of all of Israel`s citizens: Religious and secular, Jews and adherents of other religions, natives and immigrants.”
”Israel is a young country, only 67 years old, but in such a short time in historical terms it has had tremendous achievements, to a large extent due to its ability to persevere and adhere to the values and goals that were set in its Declaration of Independence, including the preservation of liberty and human rights [for all its citizens],” Edelstein said.
The Knesset Speaker further told the Indian president, ”Unfortunately, to this day many of our neighbors have not accepted our existence. To our regret, you are visiting us at a tense time, in which another wave of terror is rising from some of our enemies, who have chosen to continue along the path of violence, terror and bloodshed with the encouragement, fanning [of the flames] and severe and prolonged incitement against us – against Israel and the Jews.”
Edelstein mentioned the deadly terror attacks carried out by Islamic extremists in India, including the 2008 attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai.
”Any sensible person knows that you cannot reach an agreement, and certainly not peace, by shooting and stabbing innocent people on our streets and in our homes,” the Knesset Speaker said.
”This is not a `war of liberation` from the burden of occupation; we are witnessing part of a much broader struggle, an all-embracing [struggle] between cultures, nationalities and religions,” Edelstein continued. ”The terror elements, in their various names: al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah and their like in the Middle East, are trying to use violence in order to impose their way and establish their rule. [India and Israel] are joining hands in the fight for the future of the sane and enlightened world.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) said in his speech that ”India is a huge country, and we are a small country, but together we are doing great things in science, technology, commerce, cyber, water and security, and we are working together to realize the potential of innovation in order to bring welfare and prosperity to our countries.”
The PM also addressed the severe security situation in Israel, saying ”in the face of all the challenges of fanaticism and terror that have befallen both countries, we have succeeded in preserving democracy for seven decades. Both of our countries are attacked by global terror elements…. There is no moral justification in murderous terror against innocents. It must be fought with full force, and this is what we are doing at this time.”
”Alongside our aspirations to live in coexistence and peace, we must make it clear to our enemies that terror will not defeat us,” Netanyahu continued. ”In addition to demolishing terrorists` homes, we will not allow the rebuilding of homes at the same location. We will seize property, revoke permanent residency statuses and set up roadblocks wherever they are required. We will act against all those inciters who spread blood libels to set in motion actions against us.”
The Israeli premier said the current wave of terror is driven by ”religious Muslim fanaticism through incitement on social networks, lies about the destruction of the Temple Mount and the cancellation of the status quo.”
Addressing the stalled peace process, Netanyahu declared that ”Israel wants peace, I want peace. I am interested in launching negotiations immediately, without preconditions. In order for this to happen, the terror incidents will have to stop and the Palestinians will have to recognize the State of Israel.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Camp) told Indian President Mukherjee that he was personally fascinated by ”your ability to integrate the Muslim minority in all the circles of life, in politics and government, including in the most senior and sensitive security positions.”
”Of course I am also fascinated by your constitution, which deals in special way with issues such as religion and state. In this regard, we certainly have much to learn from your experience and moderate worldview,” MK Herzog said.
The opposition leader also mentioned the recent wave of terror that is gripping Israel. ”You (India) also experienced a fair share of terror and wars throughout your history. You still feel the pain of the terror attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai in 2008, during which eight Jews and Israelis were killed. Terror has no boundaries, and therefore cooperation between the democratic and enlightened forces is crucial, and with it we can recruit the moderate Middle Eastern countries that view terror as a severe threat.”
Israel, Herzog continued, ”has not lost its desire to reach an agreement with our Palestinian neighbors, to guarantee them a state alongside Israel and to exist with it in peace and security. We must dream and not give up. The silent majority in both nations wants this, and for it to happen we need the courage to change, we need to acknowledge the reality and stop burying our head in the sand with fear and anguish. The leaders of both nations must see it as their historic mission to bring about a separation between the nations.”
”India`s voice can certainly contribute to this process, just as its voice is essential in the effort against the extremist fundamentalism that is reaching us from Iran and ISIS,” he said.