Two events held in Delhi within a week drew attention to the neglect India-Israel academic ties suffer from, in spite of the great strengthening of trade relations between the two countries during the two decades of diplomatic ties. One event was a workshop on Israel Studies (Dec. 9 – 10) at Jindal School of International Affairs at the University in Sonipat, Haryana, organized by it in collaboration with the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Brandeis University, USA; the other event was the presentation of the 2012 Professor M L Sondhi Award for International Politics to Dr. Moshe Yegar by the Professor ML Sondhi Trust and the ML Sondhi Institute for Asia-Pacific Affairs, on December 14th, at a function at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, for the major role he played in the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Israel as the Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of Asia.
At the workshop a dozen scholars from Brandeis University and Rollins College in USA, Tel Aviv University in Israel, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, Gautam Buddha University, National School of Drama Society and Jindal Global University in India converged to present their papers under four panels spread over two days. Liron Zaslansky, Counsellor of Political Affairs at Embassy of Israel in New Delhi said that India and Israel share the same passion for knowledge and that the centre for Israel Studies at Jindal University that the Jindal University and the Brandeis University have jointly envisioned will bring these two nations even closer and benefit both. The keynote address was delivered by Professor Ilan Troen, Stoll Family Chair in Israel Studies and Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Brandeis University. While speaking on Israel Studies as a Field of Studies, he pointed out the existence of forty chairs of Israel Studies and six hundred courses in it across the world today, which gives us the opportunity to study the complexities of Israeli society without prejudgments. Professor C. Raj Kumar joined him in mentioning how the Indian Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen has mentioned sixty identities of himself, to make the point that we tend to emphasize one identity over the other without realizing the importance of complexities. Various aspects of the unique reality of Israeli society and state were discussed during the two days, the political situation in the region in respect to Israel, and the Israeli- Indo academic relations.
Just three days after the workshop, the Professor ML Sondhi Trust and the ML Sondhi Institute for Asia-Pacific Affairs honored Dr. Moshe Yegar, former Deputy Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of Asia, with its 2012 Professor M. L. Sondhi Award for International Politics, at a function in New Delhi, in recognition of the crucial role he played in the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Israel two decades ago. This was the climax of his long involvement in Asian affairs that began in the mid-1950’s.
Prof. ML Sondhi (1933-2003), in whose memory the award was instituted by the trust and the institute named after him, was an academic, diplomat, parliamentarian, and a strong advocate of Indo-Israel diplomatic relations. He was also the founder and president of the Sanskrit-Hebrew Society, which included the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, as a founding member. He visited Ben Gurion in 1965 and exchanged letters with him thereafter. The Professor ML Sondhi Award given for “an outstanding contribution, relevant to India, to the theory or practice of international politics”, consists of Two Hundred Thousand Rupees, a plaque and an invitation to lecture in Delhi, the capital of India
The function was attended in large numbers by diplomats, like Alon Ushpiz, Israeli Ambassador to India, Navjot Singh Sarna, the former Indian Ambassador to Israel, Natwar Singh, former Indian Foreign Minister, and by academics devoted to Israel and Jewish Studies, like Prof. P. R. Kumaraswamy of the Centre for West Asian Studies, Jawaharalal Nehru University and by scholars and activists from the Beit Chabad in Delhi.
Dr. Yegar, who is an outstanding scholar-diplomat with two books under his belt, The Long Journey to Asia: A Chapter in the Diplomatic History of Israel, and a monumental volume titled Between Integration and Secession on the Muslim communities of the Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Myanmar, and also a Hebrew textbook on the modern history of Southeast Asia, lamented on the neglect that the academic ties between India and Israel suffer from. He said that it is high time for non-governmental organizations to promote academic ties between India and Israel.