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Palestine and the Hindu-Hindutva disjuncture

Antara Chakraborthy and Yasmine Wong have analysed “India’s Digital Footprint on the Israel-Gaza War” (The Diplomat, 21 October 2023). They are very clear in their argument that right-wing Hindutva nationalists are leading the disinformation campaign targeting Palestine with negative news while fabricating rather pulling contents out of thin air in support of Israel.

– Dr. Khan Yasir

The English proverb ‘birds of a feather flock together’ implies that people with similar thoughts and characteristics tend to associate with one another. In the age when internet, smartphones and social media have shrunk an already small global village, no borders and barriers can stop people from coming together. This phenomenon has its pros and cons. On the positive side, the voiceless find a platform to express themselves and feel strengthened by the voices of fraternal solidarity, even local violations garner global outrage. However, on the downside, it is unsurprising to see individuals with a fascist bent of mind supporting and cheering each other on various social media platforms. Given their state of mind and sadistic nature it is not astonishing to see them justifying ethnic cleansing and relishing a genocide. To achieve their goals, they are not even shy to generate and disseminate fake news.

This obnoxious phenomenon described as the downside of the ability to participate in (and shape) the narrative at the global stage is not hypothetical; it is happening in reality. And it’s not happening far away, but right here in our beloved country, India. The latest manifestation of the abhorrent phenomenon has been the recent escalation of hostilities between colonial oppressors and freedom fighters in historic Palestine.

Hindutva trolls and their love for Israeli terror
Antara Chakraborthy and Yasmine Wong have analysed “India’s Digital Footprint on the Israel-Gaza War” (The Diplomat, 21 October 2023). They are very clear in their argument that right-wing Hindutva nationalists are leading the disinformation campaign targeting Palestine with negative news while fabricating rather pulling contents out of thin air in support of Israel.

In the wake of this vicious campaign, fact-checker Pratik Sinha has referred to India as the “disinformation capital of the world” due to the rise of Hindutva fascism in the country. One may tend to trace back this disinformation campaign to Narendra Modi’s emotional outbursts in unequivocal support of Israel in his tweets (7 October 2023), but this would be naïve. The affinity between Hindutva brigade and Zionists can be traced back to much earlier.

Kavita Chowdhury has regarded proponents of Hindutva and Zionist Israel as strange bedfellows (The Diplomat, 2 December 2022).

Earlier, Anupama Katakam had regarded Zionists and Hindutvawadis as communal cousins (Frontline, 23 September 2019).

Still earlier, A.G. Noorani had touched some sore spots by calling a spade a spade when he aptly argued that, “The Hindu right wing’s admiration for Israel and the Zionist ideology is born out of its antipathy to Muslims.” (Frontline, 19 July 2017).

The list goes on and on.

And hence, instead of describing a history of this dubious hate-based love affair, I tend to delve deep into something more fundamental. When three bullets, fired by a Hindutva zealot and the first terrorist of independent India, ended M.K. Gandhi’s life; an emotional J.L. Nehru remarked in his condolence speech, “It is a shame to me as an Indian that an Indian should have raised his hands against him, it is a shame to me as a Hindu that a Hindu should have done this deed and done it to the greatest Indian of the day and the greatest Hindu of the age.”

Gandhi’s impact on modern India is profound and his relevance indubitable, hence it is certainly appropriate to explore his stance on the Palestine question as well. Assessing this stance, with an appreciation of its nuances, is especially important in the light of propaganda unleashed by the Hindutva brigade. This stand highlights yet again the difference between Hinduism as a spiritual religion and Hindutva as a fascist political ideology.

‘The greatest Hindu of the age’ on Jewish suffering:
Gandhi penned an article titled “The Jews,” addressing the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine. This article was published in Harijan on November 26, 1938. The quotes provided below are sourced from this article, which has been accessed from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Vol. 74, pp. 239-242).

Gandhi wrote that the news of continued persecution of Jews in Germany deeply saddened him. Due to his long and cherished friendships with Jews, some of whom became “lifelong companions,” he was well-acquainted with the idea of the “age-long persecution” of Jews. His empathetic mind drew parallels between the treatment meted out to Jews by Christians and “the treatment of untouchables by Hindus”. In both cases, he argued, “religious sanction” was invoked to justify inhuman treatment of the other. In this backdrop, despite the fact that the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine was a “very difficult question” for him, Gandhi did not mince words when he stated, “But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice.”

To Gandhi, Jewish cry for a national home “does not make much appeal”. The Biblical justifications as well as the Jewish tenacity for a homeland in Palestine did not dissuade Gandhi from asking, “Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?”

In a calm, logical manner, Gandhi asserted, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French.”

He further clarified, “It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.”

He strongly stated, “What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct.” He considered it “a crime against humanity” to displace Arabs in order to make Palestine “partly or wholly” as Jewish national home.

The solution of an idealist
Gandhi emphatically maintained that the solution of Jewish problem did not lie in paying forward the oppression they received from the strong to those weaker than them, but in sincerely, truthfully and non-violently resisting the oppression of the strong. Gandhi presented Satyagraha as the panacea for their ills and opined that they are “far more gifted” than Indians in South Africa, enjoying strong world opinion to support their objectives.

He asserted, “The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred. The Jews born in France are French in precisely the same sense that Christians born in France are French.”

Gandhi believed in this principle with such conviction that he went on to write, “This cry for the national home affords a colourable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews.” Today this trenchant and perspicacious critique implies that the very existence of Israel, an apartheid state indulged in ethnic cleansing, masquerading as the national home of the Jews is an embedded and embodied justification of the Holocaust, no less. Here, Gandhi’s strength of character and insight deserves applause.

He wrote, “If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment.”

In this fight for freedom, he did not fear death as he wrote, “…to the godfearing, death has no terror.” Perhaps this explains the miraculous resolve of Palestinians in the wake of continued repression and persecution!

Gandhi’s firm commitment to justice
For Gandhi, aastha cannot validate the usurpation of others’ lands. He reminded Jews that “The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract.”

It exists only in their hearts and minds and cannot be imposed upon other people and land. Even if they regard Palestine as their national home, “it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun” as a “religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb.”

Gandhi is unequivocal in his conviction when he proclaimed that the foreign (i.e. non-Palestinian) Jews “can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs.”

Gandhi expressed deep concern and distress over the Zionist atrocities in Palestine. For this turmoil he held both the British administration and the Jewish settlers accountable. British – for violating their mandate; and Jews as “…they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them.”

It must be noted that Gandhi, a staunch pacifist, could not have endorsed violence under any circumstances and hence he expressed his wish that the Arabs too must have chosen the path of non-violent resistance; nevertheless, he recognised the justness of their cause, in his words, “I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country.”

The choice of the word ‘rightly’ denote, if any sceptic has doubts, that, from Gandhian perspective, the state of Israel is nothing more than an unwarrantable encroachment and an unjust intrusion upon the Palestinians. This blatant acknowledgment of the Arab resistance as legitimate is significant, particularly considering Gandhi’s unwavering commitment to pacifism, in his parlance, “…according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.”

In short, Gandhi was not oblivious to Jewish suffering; rather, he was deeply empathetic toward them. He acknowledged that German persecution of Jews “seems to have no parallel in history”. But neither his empathy for the Jews nor his strong commitment to non-violence could deter him from recognising the justness of the Palestinian cause. India’s foreign policy, over the years, has reflected this emphasis on justice and fairness.

In spite of the best efforts of proponents of the fascist ideology responsible for his assassination, Gandhi’s influence on India’s foreign policy endures even today and has not been entirely jettisoned. If Gandhi would have been alive today, he would have courageously said of Israel what he then boldly had said about Nazi Germany that it “…is showing to the world how efficiently violence can be worked when it is not hampered by any hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as humanitarianism.”

And regarding India’s strategic partnership with Israel, he would have painfully wondered, “How can there be alliance between a nation which claims to stand for justice and democracy and one which is the declared enemy of both?”

[The writer is Director In-Charge, Indian Institute of Islamic Studies and Research]

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