Indian Americans and American Jews: Advancing a trilateral alliance

Jerusalem Post
Jason Isaacson
July 6, 2017

 

As an organization that has been deeply involved in promoting Indian-Israeli and Indian-US relations for a quarter- century, it was no surprise that American Jewish Committee played a role this week in the historic visit to Israel by the Indian prime minister – helping to organize programs at two Israeli think tanks, welcoming senior leadership of the Indian business community, and taking part in high-level meetings.

What may have been a surprise to some was the presence here of prominent figures in the Indian American community – notably M.R. Rangaswami, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is founder of the organization Indiaspora, and Dr. Bharat Barai, a Chicago physician and founder of the Global Indian- Jewish Relations Institute, who has been close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi since before the Indian leader’s tenure as chief minister of Gujarat.

But Mr. Rangaswami, Dr. Barai and other Indian American leaders, true friends of Israel, were in exactly the right place. Both men, longtime partners of AJC in deepening Indian- Jewish intercommunal partnership in the United States, are committed advocates of the trilateral alliance – of India, Israel and the United States – that this week’s visit, combined with last week’s visit of Prime Minister Modi to Washington, promises to dramatically strengthen.

Indian-Jewish partnership in the United States isn’t a new story. It has been growing for years – the natural result of obvious cultural affinities and compatibilities, high-achieving minority group status, attachment to a distant ancestral homeland, and common fears of extremism. It has been championed over the years by US Indian and Jewish community activists, strategic thinkers, business leaders and political visionaries – including the late Rep. Stephen Solarz, the Brooklyn Democrat who once addressed the Indian parliament to a standing ovation, and former Rep. Gary Ackerman, driving force in the Congressional Caucus on India, who retired in 2013.

Together, a coalition of Indian Americans and American Jews that AJC was privileged to help assemble made the case to wary US lawmakers and nonproliferation activists for passage of the landmark US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, the turning point in strategic ties between New Delhi and Washington, which was sketched out by president George W.

Bush and prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July 2005, announced in fuller detail in early 2006, but not adopted by Congress until late 2008. The long slog toward enactment, surviving international negotiations by nuclear regulators and breathtaking political brinkmanship in India, cemented working relations between the two communities.

Together, Indian Americans and American Jews have fiercely promoted the principles of pluralism and mutual respect – principles increasingly tested in the public arena.

We have argued for the identification and prosecution of hate crimes, for generous but prudent immigration measures that contribute to American prosperity, for religious freedom for adherents to minority faiths – and for all our countrymen. And, together, we have supported counterterrorism cooperation with sister democracies, and expressed concerns about US engagement with, and sales of sophisticated arms to, countries that do not share American values.

This partnership, this joint pursuit of a common public policy agenda for the common good, follows in the great tradition of citizen advocacy enshrined in the US Constitution and refined with particular dedication and effectiveness by American Jewish activists over the last century. Nonpartisan participants in the political process, we strive to advance the cause of peace, security and prosperity for Israel and for India, and increasingly close and open cooperation between the two, in the knowledge that their partnership, their collaboration against extremism, and their alliance with the United States advance our nation’s security and prosperity.

The natural friendships, sympathies and synergies of Indian Americans and American Jews can be found in nearly every professional, academic and cultural venue in America.

AJC has seen them on display in the annual Hanukka parties hosted by the Indian ambassador in Washington and by Indian consuls- general in several American cities, in the joint Indian-Jewish memorial services conducted in communities across America after the 2008 Mumbai massacre, and in the warm responses of delegations of Indian American civil society leaders who have experienced an immersive, inspiring week in Israel through AJC Project Interchange.

The vision of Prime Minister Modi, the outstretched hand of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the warm welcome of President Trump, and years of dedicated and creative diplomacy brought us to the current moment. But behind the headlines, Indian- Jewish solidarity forged and bolstered over the last quarter-century in the United States was an added – I believe, essential – factor in the emergence of the trilateral alliance of India, Israel and the United States on display in the back-to-back visits by the Indian leader to Washington and Jerusalem over the last two weeks. Theirs will be an alliance in which not all parties will agree on all matters (chief among them, the Iranian threat) – but, based on common values, and with the backing of two active American communities with a deep commitment to its success, it is an alliance that will endure.

Jason Isaacson, based in Washington, is the American Jewish Committee’s associate executive director for policy.

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