India sounds alert for Israelis amid war: How safe has the country been for Jews?

As the war continues to unfold in the Gaza Strip, India has sounded an alert to secure Israeli nationals, including diplomats, staff, and tourists, in the country.

It’s been reported that New Delhi has been asked to increase deployment on the streets to keep vigil during Friday prayers. Additional security has also been deployed in sensitive areas such as the Israeli embassy and Jewish religious establishments.

News18 has also reported that the alert has stated that more security be provided to Jewish festivals this month. “In view of the latest development, it is requested to strengthen the security arrangement for Israeli missions, diplomats, officials, staff, business establishments, Chabad houses, Jewish community centres,” a top government official quoting the letter told News18.

The alert has been sounded off days after countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany, heightened security around “potential Jewish targets” and “pro-Palestinian protesters” in view of the escalating violence in Israel.

In light of this new development, we take a look at how Israelis and Jews have made India their home and how safe they are in the nation.

Jews in India: A look back

A religious minority in India, Jews have been living in the country after migrating over 2,000 years ago. In fact, Judaism was one of the first foreign religions to enter India. Today, there are around 6,000 Jews living in India.

It is said that they made their way to the country through the sea route from Judea (southern Palestine) and settled here, calling it their home.

Jews in India are divided into separate groups, depending on their geographical location and origin myths in the country. There are four main groups: The Bene Israelis, who make up the largest Indian Jewish group and are primarily settled in Maharashtra and Konkan.

A Jew reads the holy book at a synagogue in Mumbai. There are around 6,000 Jews in India and the first Jewish community is believed to have settled in the country around 70 AD. File image/Reuters

There’s also the Cochin Jews, who first arrived in the contemporary state of Kerala about 50 CE. The local legend states that they moved to the country after the first temple was destroyed during the siege of Jerusalem and were warmly received by Cheraman Perumal, the ruler of the Chera dynasty.

The Baghdadi Jews arrived in port cities like Calcutta, Bombay, and Rangoon in the most recent wave of migration.

There’s also the Bnei Menashe, who are settled in the North East.

And even though some Jews returned to Israel in 1948 after the declaration of the state of Israel, they have retained some aspects of the local culture. Rabbi Malekar told the Indian Express that many Bene Israelis who went back to Israel still speak Marathi, they wear the local Maharashtrian dress and tie the Mangal Sutra in their weddings.

Apart from the Jews in India, there are a significantly large number of Israelis who travel to India. More than 40,000 Israelis visit India each year, many choosing to visit the country after finishing their compulsory army service. They live in the smaller towns and villages of India for as long as their money can last them, and revel in the freedom India offers them after their rigorous term of service.

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Safe and sound in India

Jews in India have enjoyed a relatively peaceful life, without incidents of anti-Semitism. Scholars have frequently noted that India remains to be the only place in the world where Jews never had to face anti-Semitism.

In fact, until 2008 when Pakistani terrorists had breached India’s maritime borders and entered Mumbai, the financial capital, and attacked several locations on 26 November, Jews in India had witnessed no violence.

It was only then that terrorists had attacked Chabad House (a Jewish community centre) run by Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka Holtzberg in Colaba. The terrorists had held the Rabbi and his wife along with their guests hostage for 40 hours – however, the Rabbi’s two-year-old son Moshe and the cook were able to escape 12 hours into the siege.

Children stand next to a wall riddled with bullet holes during a tour of the Nariman House in Mumbai, a year after the 26/11 attacks. File image/Reuters

At the end of the operation, the Rabbi, his wife and five of the hostages were found dead.

Another instance when Israelis were targeted in India came in February 2012 when an Israeli diplomat’s wife was injured in a car bomb in Delhi. The woman, Tal Yehoshua Koren, sustained moderate injuries that required surgery to remove shrapnel while her driver and two bystanders suffered minor injuries.

And the most recent incident that prompted a security alert was when a minor bomb exploded near the Israeli embassy in the national capital. The incident happened just after the Beating the Retreat ceremony ended in Lutyen’s Delhi. No one was injured in the incident, but India and all elements in Israel regarded the explosion as a terrorist incident.

Anti-Semitic attacks around the world

But while Jews enjoy peace and safety in India, they are seeing a rise in attacks elsewhere in the world. In the United Kingdom, anti-Semitic incidents have more than quadrupled since Hamas’ attack on Israel, said a charity. The Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 89 “anti-Jewish hate” incidents from 7 to 10 October. That marked a more than four-fold rise on the 21 anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the same period last year.

In the days since the war broke out, UK has seen a significant rise in anti-Semitic incidents. File image/Reuters

Moreover, anti-Jewish threats on Telegram, a platform popular with Islamic State militants and white supremacists, surged by an alarming 488 per cent in the first 18 hours of Saturday, according to the Anti-Defamation League, the oldest Jewish civil rights group in the United States.

The US has also seen sporadic anti-Semitic incidents. In Salt Lake City, Utah, a synagogue was forced to evacuate after receiving a bomb threat. In St. Louis, Missouri, a swastika was spray-painted on the side of a truck.

In Sydney, unverified footage distributed by the Australian Jewish Association appeared to show a group of protesters outside the Sydney Opera House shouting, “Gas the Jews.”

With inputs from agencies

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