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India & Israel, is it time to be making hay
written by shalini elassery, October 2017

The sun is shining bright on all things Indo-Israel and this corridor has never before seen the quantum of attention it is getting today. Does this mean that things will change radically?

All the people who work in this area will start with the story of ancient trade between the Jews, Arabs and Indians and we are no different. Then it normally is pointed out that India was probably one of the only countries where not only did the Jews not face persecution but were actively integrated into society and there is enough evidence in the Cochin Jews who were key players in the spice trade or further up the coast in and around the Mumbai belt where they specialised in oil extraction, famously being called the “teli” community.

And yet in 2017, the 25th year of formal diplomatic relations between the two nations, nations that got their independence within a year of one another, there is little to show outside the scope of defence, diamonds and agriculture, all three segments that required and grew on the basis of government patronage. The last 5 years have also shown some traction in higher education mostly inbound to Israel from India and some pockets of hi-tech. So where is it stuck?

Meivia has been working quietly in this corridor for just over 15 years and the following is a personal
observation based mostly on anecdotal evidence.

We identified early on that the focus for ‘Israel to India’ should be either for market or for scale and for ‘India to Israel’ should be for technology. Yet most of the work that finds its way to us often wants to look at Israel for a market ( 8 million population… and we cannot seem to explain why it would be easier to treat Bangalore as a market) or for India as the market after US, Europe, Japan, South East Asia or more significantly after China.

Looking at these as two problems, the Israelis often have a view of India formed erroneously from their post army trip where they live barely above the level of mendicants and believe that the country too must be living like that. The notion that I did not grow up surrounded by “babas” is met with a faint disbelief or frank suspicion or covered up by claims that I must be belonging to a small elite. I must clarify that I am a daughter of a retired Central government employee and my upbringing was strictly middle class.

The other problem is their over exposure to China, a nation they think of as homogenous, again erroneously, but at least there they have the advantage of always having a government to interface with. Israel has a much larger play in China, which speaks of a much better and organized public relations campaign by the Chinese government machinery.

Every year at the end of our week long study trip of Israeli students, the resounding echo is of how different corporate India is from what they thought it would be. Even in the present “sun always shining” phase of our relationship, very little is done to bridge this perception gap of what India is.

The Indian view of Israel is also marred in the same manner, they are known for weapons, irrigation and diamonds. The well informed Indian also shares this bias, meaning that when we are approached it often times is from the marketing head who is merely trying to include Israel in his or her gap in the Middle East, also often times expecting it to fit into his or her preconceived notion of how similar it must be to the rest of the region. In the last few years, this has begun to change and more of the big players are now waiting on the side-lines hoping to cherry pick ideas, companies, form JV’s or finally figure out how to leverage this relationship.

As a senior Indian official once said to us, the truth of the matter is that Israel needs India quite a bit more than India needs Israel. Without necessarily agreeing with this sentiment, it is important to recognize the depth of potential that exists in the corridor and work towards realizing more of this whilst there is a committed government on either side of the corridor.