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dna Must Reads for morning: From Supreme Court’s verdict on NJAC to Nepal’s new constitution

Supreme Court

1. Supreme Court verdict on NJAC triggers government, judiciary face offThe Modi government on Friday suffered a second setback over its pet reforms with the Supreme Court quashing the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) and restoring the collegium system. The move has brought the government and the judiciary virtually on the verge of a confrontation. Read more here.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>2. Rail Neer’ racket: CBI seizes Rs 20 crore during raids; case against two former Railway officialsThe Central Bureau of Investigation on Friday registered a case against two former Chief Commercial Managers (Catering), Northern Railways for allegedly showing favour to private firms which provided cheap packaged drinking water(PDW) to premium trains instead of the mandatory “Rail Neer”. Read more here.3. Palestinians set fire to Jewish shrine; Israeli soldier stabbedPalestinians set fire to a Jewish shrine in the occupied West Bank, and an attacker disguised as a journalist stabbed an Israeli soldier on Friday as tensions ran high after more than two weeks of violence. Read more here.4. Policy draft calls for 20% MP funds for education, social upliftment by institutionsThe draft of the National Education Policy (NEP) envisages a separate and permanent cadre for education on the lines of administrative, revenue, foreign and police services. As per the draft, being drawn up by the HRD ministry, MPs will be asked to contribute 20% of their funds to education. Read more here.5. Nepal constitution ends 8-year deadlock, but not pessimismThey have a constitution now in Nepal. Finally. It’s a real constitution, too, not like the interim agreement that kept things stumbling along for the last eight years, since soon after a peace deal ended a war with Maoist rebels. Read more here.

President Pranab Mukherjee firm on visit to Palestine varsity; Israel halts computer consignment

The university is caught in current clashes, going on since September after Israel banned the Al Aqsa mosque – the third holiest site of Islam located in the compound of Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site also revered by Jews – for Palestinians following confrontations with Jewish visitors.

Pranab Mukherjee

Continuing violence in Israel and Palestine territories has curtailed President Pranab Mukherjee’s plans to visit some of the historic places like the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. However, Mukherjee, who arrived in Amman Saturday on a six-day visit to the region, is however believed to have rebuked Israeli concerns by staying firm on his visit to the contentious Al Quds University. The university is caught in current clashes, going on since September after Israel banned the Al Aqsa mosque – the third holiest site of Islam located in the compound of Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site also revered by Jews – for Palestinians following confrontations with Jewish visitors.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> While Israel considers the university, built by Palestinians, a source of promoting Islamic Jihad and vilifying the Jewish state, India has always been a leading partner in educational support and cooperation to Palestine. Israeli security forces also halted a consignment of 30 computers at Haifa Shipping Port on October 6, which were to make way to the Information Technology centre to be set up at the Al Quds varsity and inaugurated by Mukherjee. Indian diplomats are in hectic negotiations with their Israeli counterparts to release the consignment ahead of the President’s visit. Ohad Horsandi, spokesperson with embassy of Israel in India said, “the consignment is with the Israeli customs and the procedure is taking time. Israel has no interest in stopping this. We are trying our best to expedite the process.” The President, who will be conferred an honorary doctorate at the Al Quds varsity, will be accompanied by vice-chancellors and heads of Jamia Milia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. “This is a symbolic move and a positive gesture by the President, in solidarity with Palestinians. Israel discriminates not just Al Quds varsity but all Palestinian institutions and calls the students terrorists. It shows India’s commitment and concern for the Palestine cause and development,” said author and journalist Dr Zafrul Islam Khan.

Six killed in Gaza as Israeli-Palestinian violence widens | Reuters

GAZA/JERUSALEM Israeli troops shot dead six Palestinians in protests in Gaza and a knife-wielding Jewish man wounded four Arabs in southern Israel on Friday in a wave of violence that has fuelled talk of a new uprising against Israel.

The soldiers shot across the border into Gaza after the Palestinians came too close to the Israeli frontier, throwing stones and rolling burning tyres, an army spokeswoman said. Gaza medics said six people were killed and 50 wounded.

The protests were in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where tensions have surged in 10 days of violence in which four Israelis and at least eight Palestinians have been killed.

Palestinians have been angered by events at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City and fear Israel wants to change the status quo at the holy site, revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied wanting to change conditions under which Jews are allowed to visit the site but non-Muslim prayer is banned. His assurances have done little to quell alarm among Muslims across the region.

The violence is not of the intensity of two Palestinian uprisings in the late 1980s and early 2000s but the attacks have prompted talk of a third “intifada”.

Both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have called for calm and Palestinian police continue to coordinate with Israeli security forces to try to restore order, but there are few signs of the tension and violence dying down.

In Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh praised Palestinians who have carried out knife attacks as “heroes” and said a new intifada focused on Jerusalem was underway.

“This is Friday, this is the day of rage… It is a day that will represent the start of a new intifada in all of the land of Palestine,” he told followers after prayers.

“We give our souls and blood for Jerusalem, Jerusalem and al-Aqsa is part of the religion.”

Earlier on Friday, a Jewish assailant stabbed four Arab men in the southern Israeli city of Dimona, an attack denounced by Netanyahu and described by one of his ministers as “terrorism”.

In the northern city of Afula, an Israeli-Arab woman was shot several times and wounded by police who closed in on her as she held up a knife, a video clip circulated on social media showed. Police said she had tried to stab a bus station guard.

In the Old City of Jerusalem, a Palestinian stabbed and wounded a 14-year-old Jewish boy, and near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli policeman before being shot dead.

There was also violence in the West Bank city of Ramallah, with video footage showing an Israeli army jeep running over a stone-throwing Palestinian, who was wounded. Medics said 247 Palestinians were hurt in Friday’s West Bank disturbances.

NO TALKS, NO PEACE

Rancour runs deep between Israel and the Palestinians, whose last round of negotiations ended in April 2014 without progress.

A new intifada would further complicate efforts by world leaders to resolve conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and there is little appetite to re-engage in peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians after many failures in the past.

The chances of talks resuming before U.S. President Barack Obama’s term ends appear slim. His senior aide, Ben Rhodes, told Israeli radio on Thursday that Washington had no “silver bullet” to bring about the envisaged Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Netanyahu has accused Abbas, his Fatah party and the Islamist group Hamas of inciting the violence in East Jerusalem in recent weeks. He reiterated that message at a news conference on Thursday, adding that there was no “quick fix”.

“We are in the midst of a wave of terrorism with knives, firebombs, rocks and even live fire,” he said.

“While these acts are mostly unorganized, they are all the result of wild and mendacious incitement by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, several countries in the region and… the Islamic Movement in Israel.”

Abbas has praised Palestinians for “defending” al-Aqsa but also urged people to engage in “peaceful popular resistance”.

As well as tensions over al-Aqsa, Palestinian anger has mounted as Israeli forces have taken a tougher line against protesters who are violent. Netanyahu has told troops and police they can shoot Palestinian stone-throwers if they have reason to believe an Israeli life is threatened. Israeli mayors have encouraged residents with gun licences to carry their weapons.

There is also frustration at the failure of Israeli police to track down the Jews suspected of an arson attack on a Palestinian family in the West Bank two months ago in which a child and his parents were killed.

In turn, Israelis are on edge after deadly stone-throwing attacks by Palestinians and the killing of an Israeli couple in the West Bank 10 days ago. They were shot as they drove in their car with their four children.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Anna Willard)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Israeli companies will invest in India when stage is set right, says ambassador Daniel Carmon

Daniel Carmon

How Indo-Israel relations have changed since Modi government took over?Ans From our perspective relationship is always between two countries and not between the governments. Indo-Israel relationship is an ongoing process. I would say that visibilities of relations have been there for last 24 years but its nature has changed. We knew it was better for Indian side not to talk too much about Indo-Israel relation because it was mostly for defence and it was part of international game. If good relations with Israel would have come out in open India would have met with protest from various counterparts. But now you see that those relations if visible don’t affect other relationships.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Are there any big investments coming from Israel under Make in India mission?Ans Israel is already doing Make in India. As you must be aware that during Israel defence minister’s visit this year, he had announced support for Make in India in defence sector and we are trying to implement it. I cannot tell you what the other investments coming up as of now. However, our strength is research and development which is the first stage and manufacturing comes later. We are not big guys with heavy industry. However, I do see a possibility of this happening but we have to first set the stage right. Once the knowledge based infrastructure is set right the Israeli companies and businesses will know that India is a place where they should not come for R&D, exchange or transfer of technology but also to open some plants. Investments can come only if India has a very stable kind of infrastructure. What are the new avenues Indo-Israel looking forward to?Ans There are large number of areas that forms fabric of Indo-Israel relations. The four warships of Indian Navy coming under Kolkata series would have system and technology provided by the Israel. Under agriculture, Centre of Excellence is an example where farmers are being trained for the latest technologies of farming. We have established water desalination plants and are also working on water technologies. There is a diverse range of subjects that we could look forward to. India and Israel had agreed to set up a $40 million India-Israel cooperation Fund to promote joint scientific and technological collaborations. What happened to this fund?Ans It was joint Indo-Israel fund and the two countries finance ministries were debating it. There were some problems in it and it could not be finalised. Why is Israel not in optics when we talk about pilgrimage tourism as the country has several sacred places?Ans The state of Israel not only has Jewish but also non-Jewish community. It is a Jewish state by nature but large population of Arabs, Muslims and Christians are also there who enjoy rights and obligation of every citizen. Pilgrimage tourism and voyage in the world including this part of the world is more than welcome. We are an open society. Israel is a country that enjoys millions of tourists around the world. I don’t see any problem in this. The only problem I see that we should be working in on is number of flights from India to Israel. I know it is due to technical reasons, but except frequency of flights there is no other problem. What do you think is delaying Indian PM’s visit to Israel?Ans We are on the verge of Indian presidential visit and I think it is an important and historic visit. In fact in last few months there have been several visits on the both sides. This year India’s agriculture and home minister have already visited Israel and we hope to see more such visits. We are always excited and happy to host anyone from India. As far as Modi’s visit is concerned I won’t look it as delay. In fact, I was never aware that PM Modi was supposed to come this year. However, right now our focus is on Presidential visit.

The Mosaic distinction: Why the Abrahamic faiths remain outsiders to Indosphere

By Jaideep A Prabhu

(I would like to express my gratitude to Rangesh Shridhar for reading through the first draft of this essay and countless hours of debate, discussion, and hair-pulling!)

One often hears Indian traditionalists arguing that not all religions are equal, and that the Sanskrit word ‘dharma’ does not translate as the English word ‘religion’. In essence, the Gandhian phrase, sarva dharma sama bhava, which is considered the root of Indian secularism (though it speaks more to pluralism, actually) does not apply to the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

AFP imageAFP image

AFP image

Why are the latter two of these three religions – Judaism presents a complication that will be discussed later – considered “outsiders” to the subcontinent despite having existed in the subcontinent for over a thousand years? In India, what passes for debate and discussion on this issue in the public sphere has so far been high on politicisation and wanting in scholarship. In academia, however – ironically, even the Western variety that many Indian traditionalists like to ignorantly scoff at – there have been some articulate expositions of why the Abrahamic religions are fundamentally different from and unequal to the faith systems of the cultural Indosphere and elsewhere. The argument runs that the differences between the two groups are not simply about what to call the sine qua non (God) or even if it is indeed sine quibus non (many gods) but involve a radical difference in views on the political order as well.

How Many Gods?

Theo Sundermeier, professor of theology at Heidelberg University, makes an insightful distinction in his Was ist Religion? Religionswissenschaft im theologischen Kontext between primary and secondary religions. The former, Sundermeier explains, developed over hundreds, if not thousands, of years, usually within a single culture, society and language with which the religion is inextricably intertwined. These would include the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian religions as easily as Hinduism. The latter category of religions are those that originate from an act of revelation or foundation and are monotheistic, universal, and of the Book. Secondary religions denounce primary religions as paganism, a collection of superstitions, and idolatry. The three Abrahamic faiths fit this description well.

This seemingly obvious categorisation holds an evolution of great import. From primary to secondary, religion changes from being a system that is irrevocably embedded in the institutional, linguistic, and cultural conditions of a society to become an autonomous system that can transcend political, ethnic, and other boundaries and transplant itself into any alien culture. As Jan Assmann, an Egyptologist at the University of Konstanz, describes in his Die Mosaische Unterscheidung: oder der Preis des Monotheismus, this change, which he calls the Mosaic distinction, is hardly about whether there is one god or there are many gods, but about truth and falsehood, knowledge and ignorance.

Monotheistic faiths rest firmly on the distinction between their true god and the falseness of other gods; their truth does not stand in a complementary relationship to other truths but relegates any such claims to the realm of falsehood. They are exclusive, antagonistic, and explicitly codified and clearly communicated. As Assmann explains, the truth to be proclaimed comes complete with an enemy to be fought – only they know of “heretics and pagans, false doctrine, sects, superstition, idolatry, magic, ignorance, unbelief, heresy, and whatever other terms have been coined to designate what they denounce, persecute and proscribe as manifestations of untruth.”

Secondary religions do not evolve from primary religions – rather, the emergence of the former represents a revolution, a rupture with the past that uncompromisingly divides the world between “Jews and Gentiles, Christians and pagans, Christians and Jews, Muslims and infidels, true believers and heretics.”

Truth and Falsehood

Such orthodoxy was unknown to the followers of primary religions and they found secondary religions intolerant. Indeed, this is an age-old argument that has been most vividly captured perhaps by David Hume in The Natural History of Religions. What is the root of such unyielding intolerance, or to put it in more sympathetic terms, conviction in their version of the truth? Assmann argues that the Mosaic distinction created an entirely new category of truth – faith – and draws an interesting parallel with a scientific development that Werner Jäger, a 20th century classicist at Harvard University, described as the Parmenidian distinction in Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture.

Parmenides was a Greek philosopher who lived in the 6th century BCE and articulated something that is so taken for granted today in science that it would be difficult to imagine a world without such an obvious principle: Being is, and Notbeing is not; that which cannot not be, and that which is not, cannot be. Thus, knowledge is based on the distinction between true and false cognition and the irreconcilability between the two. In a sense, we can speak of scientific knowledge as intolerant too, as Hume did of monotheism.

Before the Mosaic distinction, knowledge and faith were not separate concepts. Pagans knew their gods but did not believe in them for they were not objects of faith; like myths, they were unverifiable to science but not necessarily devoid of knowledge. Before the Mosaic distinction, there were four kinds of fundamental truths: experiential (water is wet), mathematical (two plus two is four), historical (the life of Mokshagundam Visveswaraya), and truths conducive to life (ethics). The Mosaic distinction cleaved faith from knowledge and installed the former as a fifth truth that claimed knowledge of the highest authority even if it could not be verified on scientific grounds.

The psychological and social impact of this differentiation is most visible in how Greek or Hindu science never conflicted with its philosophy, myths, or religious practices – each operated in its own domain. In fact, there are several anecdotes of highly acclaimed Hindu scientists subscribing to superstitions – S Ramanujan’s belief in astrology and CV Raman’s concern about the ill-effects of a solar eclipse come most readily to mind. But the monotheistic preoccupation with untruth in conjunction with faith-as-truth caused much acrimony in Christendom and the Dar al-Islam.

Alterity and Exclusion

If the conflicts between primary and secondary religion had been merely about how many gods there were, the world might have been spared much strife. Hans Zirker, emeritus professor of theology at the University of Duisburg-Essen, sees monotheism also as a statement against being influenced by strife between divine powers, being divided permanently between a dualism of Good and Evil, or being trapped in the incessant wars of self-affirmation of pluralist people. This is the political dimension of monotheism. Eric Santner, professor of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago, suggests that the universalism of monotheism is imposed upon all, thereby forcing them to acquiesce to the Mosaic distinction or to be regarded as failures.

In The Psychotheology of Everyday Life, an obvious play on the title of Sigmund Freud’s work on psychopathology, Santner makes a case for the stranger – pagan? – to be the Other not for his spatial exteriority but because of his internal alterity (otherness). Externalities could be tolerated or influenced but internal alterity was far more insidious as it challenged faith-as-truth.

Ibnlive imageIbnlive image

Ibnlive image

What makes Judaism different from Christianity and Islam, Assmann argues, is that Jews posit this universalism to be implemented at a messianic end-time whereas Christianity and Islam see it as an event at the time of their foundation. Judaism is no less exclusive than its Abrahamic descendents but as a result of a future date of redemption, Jewish communities have excluded themselves from the social and cultural customs of local gentile populations. Self-isolation has no need to resort to violence or persecute those with differing beliefs; for the Jews, goyim (usually meaning non-Jewish peoples) were free to worship whomsoever they wished. As a result Jewish communities have existed in harmony amidst pagan societies or found themselves to be co-victims of their own monotheistic cousins, alongside pagans, in the lands which came to be dominated by secondary religion.

In contrast, Christianity and Islam excluded the pagan rather than themselves. The Great Commission of Christianity and the Islamic obligation of da’wah not only excludes the pagan but directly puts them on a path of conflict. This intolerance stems from the absolute certitude that faith brings to Christianity and Islam. As Assmann points out, it makes no sense to talk of tolerance in pagan systems because there is no notion of incompatibility: one can tolerate something that is incompatible and irresolvable with one’s own views but how does one tolerate something that is not so steadfastly oppositional?

Translatability

Among the practitioners of primary religions, there has always been a translatability of divinity – the cosmology of different communities was believed to be compatible with each other. In a practice that has been the norm since at least Sumerian times, pagan communities sealed contracts upon oaths to their gods. For example, if the Akkadians wanted to consecrate a treaty with the Egyptians, the former would swear by Utu and the latter by Ra, the solar deities of their respective civilisations. There was no question of the falsehood of the other’s cosmology. The worship of each others’ gods was not unknown either – the Egyptian goddess Isis had a popular cult in Rome and the Syrian Atargatis and Phrygian Cybele and followers all around the Mediterranean. Usually, these gods would travel to foreign lands with traders and with increasing commerce and familiarity, would be established in the local pantheon as well.

In the Indian context, the spread of Vedic Hinduism in India occurred along similar lines. The philosophical precepts of the Vedic Hindus were laid over the beliefs of the local communities and their gods were integrated into the Vedic pantheon. Many temples in Indian and Sri Lankan villages are dedicated to gramadevata – village deity – the legends behind whom trace their lineage back to a Puranic deity.

This is not to say that there were no conflicts among pagans – there were, and quite a few, but to go to war over theological differences was largely incomprehensible to them. In fact, conquerors often stole the idols of the vanquished to re-consecrate the deities back home with the dignity due to them. Hercules has thus been around the Mediterranean quite a few times in the wars of Phoenicia, Greece, Carthage and Rome. Religion, however, functioned as a medium of communication rather than as a criterion to exclude and eliminate. Varro, the Roman scholar who lived at the end of the 2nd century BCE, did not understand the need to distinguish between Jupiter and Yahweh as “the names are of no importance so long as the same thing is intended.”

The Mosaic distinction prevented this translatability, for Allah could never be Zeus nor Jesus be Apollo. This is another political ramification of monotheism.

Dominus Unum

The Mosaic distinction, if understood correctly, is, thus, a new political order rather than a cosmological order. The importance of this can be seen in that the primus inter pares status of the Abrahamic god and the prohibition of graven images is cemented in the first two of the 10 commandments in every version. According to Assmann, this implies that monotheism does not deny the existence of other gods but merely holds them to be false and their worship, therefore, is not meaningless but disloyalty. The former is a cognitive category, a matter of knowledge, while the latter is a political category. In essence, one could not serve two masters. Christians themselves felt the repercussions of this tenet during the Reformation in the Early Modern era when Catholics were viewed with suspicion by monarchs belonging to the breakaway sects.

Historically, monotheistic faiths made outlandish accusations against pagan religions to keep their base radicalised while turning one community against another. The Book of the Wisdom of Solomon, for example, spoke of pagans sacrificing their children in sacrifices and secret ceremonies, living in communities defined by adultery, murder, theft, corruption, and all other manner of immoral behaviour. Idolatry, the faithful are told, is the beginning of spiritual fornication and the corruption of life. Thus, idolatrous religions are depicted as completely lacking in ethical orientation. Though this critique might be dated to a specific period of monotheistic radicalisation during the third century, it nonetheless lays claim to proper worship and ethical conduct. This dispute is not merely about the number of gods one worships but about the negation of all gods but one.

Strictly speaking, most polytheistic faiths do not claim there to be many gods but that a singular divine presence animates itself in many ways. In that sense, the unity of divinity is not a monotheistic invention. However, the monotheistic spiritual binary is incapable of allowing for a primary god and several subordinate gods – it must insist on the exclusion of all gods but theirs.

There was no such paranoia in the lands where primary religions flourished. Monarchs patronised all religions in their kingdom despite their personal beliefs. Admittedly, at times, some received greater favour than others but never was a faith and its adherents exiled or made into second class subjects. Such pluralism was evident even in recent times. In Nepal, during the monarchy, Hindu and Buddhist holy days were both observed despite the official status of the state as Hindu and an overwhelming portion of the population – about 85 percent – being Hindu. The closeness between the Hindu and Buddhist communities has historically been so great that it is difficult to demarcate the two in terms of social customs even today. During the famous Bunga Dyah Jatra festival in Laliptur, for example, the Hindu kings of Nepal participated during the climactic Bhoto Jatra phase during which they had to climb up the ceremonial chariot and display a sacred vest to the crowds.

Disenchanting the World

Another reason monotheism stands as the Other is that unlike polytheistic faiths, it disenchants the world. Pagan myths usually involved humans cavorting with the gods, in war as well as in love. This entanglement gives structure to the cosmos, describing its oppositional and synergetic forces in a manner that can be easily grasped by all. Furthermore, the gods bring order to society: with each trade, settlement, and resource associated with a patron deity, a network of duties and obligations is created. Each cult, so to speak, must be balanced with others in the greater community. As Assmann argues, this can even be extended to human destiny in that the stories of the gods give meaning to human relations as well. “By telling stories about the gods, myths bring order to human life.”

Polytheism is synonymous with cosmotheism, and the divine cannot be divorced from the world. It is this theology that monotheism attacks. The divine is liberated from its ties to the cosmos, society, and the people, and in its place is the relationship of the individual with a divinity that stands outside the world, time, and space. Monotheism changes not only the image of god but man’s image of himself as well; instead of being in a seamless and symbiotic relationship with nature, he now stands alone and above it, to rule over it freely and independently, subservient only to a true god. To secondary religions, divinity is transcendent whereas for primary religions it is immanent. Through this distinction between transcendence and immanence, the mosaic distinction also achieves a distinction between man and the world.

Ethics, the Law, and Justice

The disruption from culture and history, the certitude of a new type of truth, the exclusive rejection of other gods, the falsehood and criminality of the Other, the demand of fealty, and the disenchantment of the world pave the way to one of monotheism’s most important claims – that it is the religion of justice. Again, this is a political rather than theological claim. The key point of this claim is that ethics gained entry into religion precisely through biblical monotheism since the gods of Babylon, Assyria, or Rome had nothing to do with ethics in this sense.

For the first time in history, justice, law, and freedom are declared to be the central themes of religion and the sole prerogative of god. Though technically true, this is a misleading statement. The monotheistic point of view is that since god is the true authority, only he can be the final arbiter of justice; the temporal laws of man are inferior to the divine. The story of the exodus from Egypt ties in well with ideas of liberation of the Jewish people from slavery. Furthermore, their escape, divinely sanctioned, also took the power to sit in judgment over them away from the pharaoh and invested it in god. The Shemot, or the Book of Exodus, is thus more concerned with political theology than with idolatry (the story of the golden calf). Thus, in monotheism, the political role of justice was given to religion. The authority of the king was superseded by that of the high clergy, god’s representatives on earth, as papal power well into the Early Modern era demonstrated. This fusion of the political with the religious in secondary religions, but not primary belief systems, is exactly what makes secularism a requirement solely of the former in the modern era.

In pagan religions, justice was of this world for even the gods were of this world. A Roman or an Egyptian who had been wronged could appeal to the local magistrate for justice for its own sake without reference to the gods. Indeed, in Hinduism, dharma is not only properly a function of kaala, desha, and paristhiti but the chaturanga purusharthas mention it along with artha and kama as one of the three goals of mortal life. The ultimate goal, moksha, is beyond short-term earthly consideration. As Hindi novelist Gurudutt explains in Dharma tatha samajwad and Dharma, sanskriti, aur rajya, the individual is free to interact with the divine in a manner of his choosing but wherever he must interact with another, their conduct must be guided by the precepts of dharma, artha, and kama. Ethics and the law were intrinsically this-worldy and had no business to be under divine purview. Thus, justice, or ethics at least, existed much before secondary religions came on the scene but were not truly a part of the religious system.

In a world enchanted, this caused no philosophical problems. The famous story of Indra, the king of the Hindu pantheon, being cursed by Gautama Maharishi for seducing his wife, Ahalya, illustrates how virtue reigns even above the gods in Hinduism. Monotheism did not usher law, justice, or ethics into the world; these had long been in existence. Yet monotheism first made justice a matter of direct interest to god; before then, the world had not known a law-giving god. Any claim that law, morality, and justice are terrestrial and not celestial goods still arouses feelings of deep unease in theological circles; even today, the Church defends the dogma of the inseparable unity of monotheism and justice.

*     *     *     *     *

Behind the Mosaic distinction between true and false in religion, there ultimately stands the distinction between god and the world. This worldview is not only fundamentally alien to Hindus but it is also antithetical and inimical to their way of thinking. The emphasis of secondary religions on universalism and all its attendant political baggage keeps them at an arm’s length from the pagan practices of the sub-continent. Were the rejection of Christianity and Islam by Indian traditionalists merely a matter of geography, it would be silly. Yet the grounds for suspicion and Otherness are two-fold – a predatory proselytism of exclusive monotheisms and the entire cosmology of secondary religions. Neither of these traits has mellowed over the 1,000-plus years secondary religions have been in India, and until they do, the two religions will remain outsiders to the Indosphere.

Netanyahu thanks PM Modi for help in rescuing Israelis from earthquake-hit Nepal

Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has thanked his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi for helping Israel in its rescue work in quake-hit Nepal.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with PM Narendra Modi. PIB

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with PM Narendra Modi. PIB

Netanyahu in a telephonic conversation on Thursday thanked the Indian PM for providing helicopters to assist with the rescue of Israelis (from Nepal) and permitting Israeli relief planes to land in India, an official statement said.

Netanyahu also conveyed his condolences to the families of the Indian victims who lost their lives and were injured in the earthquake, it said.

Earlier, Netanyahu extended Modi an invitation to visit Israel through Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who called upon the Israeli leader on Wednesday during his four-day visit to the Jewish state to seek technological cooperation and investments.

Israel has been helping Nepal with relief and rescue operations by setting up a military field hospital to treat victims of the earthquake consisting of trained rescue officials from the Israeli army.

Israeli army sources here said that their rescue team will continue helping the locals for at least another two weeks till the situation comes under control.

Meanwhile, more than 200 Israelis travelling in Nepal have returned to their country since the earthquake, but some still remain missing.

PTI

Should Modi accept Israel’s invite? Yes. He should ignore the naysayers

By Jaideep A Prabhu

The subject of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s possible response to an invitation by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin to visit their country has set tongues wagging, both domestically and internationally. Arab News, a Saudi broadsheet owned by one of King Salman’s sons, warned that the Indian PM would be taking a risky gamble on relations with Israel while domestic tabloids indicated bureaucratic unease with the strengthening of relations between India and Israel, at least at this juncture.

This is quite a strong reaction to a potential state visit to a country that has so far only existed on the periphery of Indian political thinking. No matter, the Indian prime minister must go to Israel and not fall prey to this tactic of unmaking government decisions even before they are made.

Israel occupies an odd place in Indian thinking. Despite the extension of recognition by the Indian government to the Jewish state in 1950, formal diplomatic ties were not established until 1992. Jawaharlal Nehru blocked Israel’s entry into the Non-Aligned Movement and turned the organisation into an unequivocally pro-Arab forum. India refused to accept Israeli assistance in improving agriculture in its semi-arid regions and in the mid-1960s refused to even accept famine relief sent by Israel in response to a plea by the UN Secretary General, U Thant – lest it hurt relations with Arab nations!

In the United Nations, Delhi was persuaded by its own rhetoric of third world solidarity and established a long record of voting against Israel. Indira Gandhi went so far as to vote in favour of UN Resolution 3379 in 1975, which equated Zionism with racism. Interestingly, none of this was without domestic opposition, political as well as in the media, but it was the heyday of Congress hegemony. Support for Palestine even merited a privileged mention in the manifesto of the Indian National Congress for the general elections of 2014.

Despite an avowedly pro-Arab stance, India initiated clandestine relations with Israel in the late 1960s. This has been documented as much as is publicly possible in B Raman’s The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane as well as Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman’s Every Spy a Prince and most recently Srinath Raghavan’s 1971 – A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh.

Indian intelligence received training from Mossad and assistance in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. According to Harsh Pant, professor at King’s College, London, India received tacit support even earlier, during the Chinese invasion in 1962 and the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. Since, Israeli assistance has continued clandestinely despite official diplomatic insults. Its intelligence agency was quite capable of serving as an alternative diplomatic service, providing military and other assistance to countries who would prefer their ties to Israel not be known. More recently, it has been acknowledged in academic and military circles alike that Israel’s role in the Kargil War in 1999 was timely and critical for the Indian war effort.

India’s rabidly anti-Israel position was diluted significantly after it established official diplomatic relations with the Middle Eastern democracy in 1992 – the last non-Arab, non-Muslim country to do so. There have been several high-level visits from both sides though support for Israel is deeply partisan in India. Though ties between the two countries were normalised under PV Narasimha Rao, the first foreign minister to visit Israel was the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Jaswant Singh and it was Atal Behari Vajpayee who first invited the then Israeli OM, Ariel Sharon, to India in 2003. No Indian prime minister has ever visited Israel, though Modi has been to the country when he was Gujarat Chief Minister in 2006.

The Jewish people and Israel have always been viewed warmly by Indians at large. In a 2009 survey done by Israel’s Ministry of External Affairs, it was found that the popularity of the Middle Eastern country was the highest among Indians. Interestingly, a 2014 survey by the BBC showed a majority of Israelis neutrally disposed towards India and only a small section of Israeli society as positive about the South Asian giant, presumably because of Delhi’s policies in the past. As the Jewish genealogical journal Avotaynu observed of India a few years ago, “Bene Israel flourished for 2,400 years in a tolerant land that has never known anti-Semitism, and were successful in all aspects of the socio-economic and cultural life of the people of the region.”

Modi’s rise to power has raised hopes in Jerusalem. Having dealt with Modi during his tenure as CM of Gujarat, Israelis have developed a fondness for the man whom they see as very Israeli in many ways. Very tachles is how one editorial described him, a Hebrew slang word that means the ability to talk about the bottom line, the concrete, the tangible…basically, getting down to business. Israeli businessmen invested billions in infrastructure, energy, pharmaceuticals, water treatment, agriculture, desalination, and semiconductors in Gujarat during Modi’s tenure, finding the environment in the state to be business friendly and less bureaucratic than the rest of India. If Modi carries even a fraction of the same enthusiasm for ties to the national level, it would mean an unprecedented boom for the Israeli economy. Non-military trade between India and Israel has risen from the paltry $100 million in 1992 to slightly over $5 billion in 2015 but this could double if a free trade agreement that has been in the works is concluded while creating much employment through the Make in India campaign simultaneously.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PIBIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PIB

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PIB

Beyond the obvious economic drivers to closer relations with Israel, there is, of course, the strategic imperative. Although Vajpayee’s diplomatic pointman, the late Brajesh Mishra, nearly caused an aneurysm in some circles when he openly called for a strategic India-Israel-United States alliance in 2003, the fact remains that both India and Israel suffer from the same Islamist plague, whether it comes in the form of Hamas or the Laskhar-e-Taiba. Cooperation in counter-terrorism measures and intelligence has only grown between the two nations as has the supply of defence equipment to India – Israel now stands third behind only Russia and the United States in supplying the Indian military. Despite its size, population and political turmoil, Israel is a high-tech island in the Middle East that has much to offer a technology-hungry India that is looking to leap past a couple of stages of development.

An unpleasant truth, perhaps, but there is, of course, another reason that Modi is popular among many of Israel’s lawmakers. His profile as firm and outspoken opponent of Islamic extremism, a common enemy, particularly in the wake of the Mumbai attacks of November 2008 that targeted the Jewish community, among others, makes him more appealing than other Indian leaders. At that time, the Indian representative to the United Nations had condemned the attack in his speech and, while naming the several locations in Mumbai the terrorist had attacked, had left out the Jewish synagogue in Colaba, Chabad House.

Despite the obvious synergies between the two countries, any talk of closer ties is usually dampened by a heavy shroud of caution and pessimism. Israel’s relationship with China and India’s connections to Iran are frequently seen as obstacles to close ties between Delhi and Jerusalem. This interpretation does great dishonour to Israeli tachles: Jerusalem has made it clear that its relations with Beijing are purely commercial while it views ties to Delhi as strategic as well as economic. Israel has not made particular efforts to augment its arms sales to China in recent years, in large part because its primary ally and investor imposes strict restrictions on the sale of weapons and technology to the rising superpower. With India, however, these restrictions have substantially weakened and Israeli firms frequently push for maximum cooperation on technology as well as weapons platforms with India, wliling to discuss not just sales but even manufacturing under licence and co-development.

On Iran, cooler heads in Jerusalem accept that commercial ties with Iran are crucial for India not just for the obvious hydrocarbon trade but also as access points via Chabahar into Afghanistan and Central Asia. Greater Indian influence in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Iran may even work to Israel’s advantage eventually, securing one middleman in the region who is not the Great Satan. With the second largest Muslim population in the world, India’s bonafides are beyond doubt. To revive an old worldview of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, India is the new periphery state for Israel, at least in the East. Unlike during the Cold War, this new periphery cannot survive on hard power alone. Delhi’s soft power in the region may be of great use if it can only be reinforced with some hard power.

Proponents of the status quo in Indian foreign policy towards the Middle East also bring up the potential fate of India’s large diaspora in the region. Of the almost 22 million Indians living overseas, about six million still reside in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar accounting for 5.2 million Indians between them. If an overtly pro-Israel policy is adopted by Delhi, it is feared that the Gulf countries might curtail the employment of Indians and even send some back. Not only does this create unemployment at home but it will also reduce the flow of remittances into India; last year, India was the highest recipient of diaspora remittances with about$70 billion, out of which almost $19 billion came from the Middle East. Furthermore, the Middle East is a premier destination for Indian exports and, equally importantly, the source of some 60 per cent of India’s hydrocarbons.

However, it is unlikely that any move by the Modi government will see a drastic shift on the ground: it is unlikely that the Gulf states will expel thousands of Indians or refuse to sell oil to India on the basis of a single state visit. Indeed, their greatest benefactor, the United States, has been one of Jerusalem’s closest allies for decades. India can move significantly closer to Israel while espousing almost the same rhetoric as Modi’s predecessors used: India still wishes to see a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian question and supports a two-state solution. Since Delhi is not a major player in the Middle East, it will not be called on for more details, wherein the devil resides. Without such a clear break, there is ample wiggle room for India to play on the differences between the Gulf states themselves: Qatar and Saudi Arabia, for example, have had a somewhat prickly relationship over the past decade or so, and Oman stood against its GCC comrades on a joint military command, perceivably to counter Iran.

Yet what makes a Modi visit to Jerusalem unpalatable to Arab Street at this particular juncture is Netanyahu’s recent outbursts – regarding Palestine and the two-state solution as well as the allegedly racist observation that Israeli Arabs are bringing out the vote – in the heat of the recent closely contested Israeli general elections. That, in concert with his adamant opposition to the potential outcome of the ongoing negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme, are said to be major landmines for an Indian diplomatic overture at this moment. As one diplomat explained, “That whole region is already on fire, and what Netanyahu is doing is to throw a tanker of oil into that fire.” However, it is an unbelievably naïve view of politics and human affairs in general to assume that one agrees with and supports every view of any interlocutor one happens to chance upon. By the same token, would dialogue with Pakistan be seen as an endorsement of terrorism against India? Modi goes to Israel strictly in pursuit of Indian interests; to read anything else into it is mischievous.

Allegations that a potential state visit by Modi might upset the delicate balance in the Middle East also puts too much import on the power of one summit. Additionally, it views – wrongly – the Israeli-Arab knot as a zero-sum game, for even outsiders. In 1992, when India sought to normalise relations with Israel, it sought approval from the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians told India, ”There are signed accords between us [and Israel] and we are now talking to the Israelis; your establishing relations with Israel helps us.” It is difficult to believe otherwise now.

Modi must indeed respond positively to Netanyahu’s invitation and visit Israel soon. The Middle East’s problems are not India’s to solve to think it carries much weight in the region at present is comical. So far, Delhi has mistreated a potential ally in the region and tolerated humiliation by those whom it desperately wished to befriend. It is time Raisina Hill replaced this obsequiousness and followed a more balanced and pragmatic policy that works on a simple quid pro quo. If even this simple stance is to be feared as jeopardising relations with other states in the region, perhaps those relations were never worth having in the first place. After all, it is India’s interests Modi must pursue and not any other. If a prime minister cannot unabashedly pursue the interests of his nation, who else can?