India, Israel Interests Team Up
Common Needs Lead to a Growing Lobbying Alliance
By Alan Cooperman – Washington Post Staff Writer
When the House passed a $3 billion aid package for Pakistan this week, Jewish and Indian American lobbyists teamed up to win an amendment pressuring Pakistan to stop Islamic militants from crossing into India.
Wearing lapel pins of the Stars and Stripes sandwiched between the flags of India and Israel, the amendment's supporters then gathered in a Capitol Hill reception room to celebrate the burgeoning political alliance between Indians and Jews in the United States.
Women in saris mingled among men in yarmulkes, a cacophony of accents united in a desire for access. Despite their obvious differences, the alliance has the potential to magnify the voices of two communities that are small in number -- about 5.2 million Jews and 1.8 million Indians -- but highly educated, affluent and attached to democratic homelands facing what they increasingly view as a common enemy.
Indians and Jews share "a passionate commitment to respect for others, for the rule of law and for democracy," Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, told the jubilant crowd after the House vote. "And lately we have been drawn together by our joint fight against mindless, vicious, fanatic Islamic terrorism."
In recent months, pro-Israel and pro-India lobbyists successfully worked together to gain the Bush administration's approval for Israel to sell four Phalcon early warning radar planes to India for about $1 billion, a deal that has alarmed the Pakistani government. Three years ago, the United States blocked a nearly identical proposal for Israel to sell radar planes to China.
The same coalition of groups -- including the U.S.-India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), America Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) and American Jewish Committee (AJC) -- is now seeking U.S. approval for India to purchase Israel's Arrow ballistic missile defense system.
Participants said the alliance has been quietly forming for several years. The American Jewish Committee, for example, has sent seven delegations to India since 1995, and two years ago it took a group of Indian American leaders to visit Israel. This year, it is opening a permanent liaison office in India and completing renovations to an earthquake-damaged school that serves mostly Muslim children in the Indian state of Gujarat, according to Jason Isaacson, AJC's director of government and international affairs.
On the domestic political front, AJC has held two training sessions in New York in the past year, showing the ropes of grass-roots lobbying to about 80 Indian Americans from around the country. Many are blunt about their desire to emulate American Jewish groups.
"I think Indian Americans see the American Jewish community as a yardstick against which to compare themselves. It's seen as the gold standard in terms of political activism," said Kumar P. Barve, the majority leader in the Maryland House of Delegates and the highest elected Indian American official in the country.
The Indian immigrant community, which doubled during the high technology boom between 1990 and 2000, is newer to U.S. politics and is only beginning to organize. USINPAC, for example, was formed in September 2002. Its executive director, Sanjay Puri, said the joint lobbying with pro-Israel groups for arms sales and the Pakistani aid amendment is "just the first of many things we're doing together. "
The amendment, sponsored by Del. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), requires the Bush administration to report to Congress on Pakistan's steps to close terrorist camps in Pakistani-held Kashmir, stop militants from crossing into India and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Puri said that even though Jewish groups have no direct interest in Kashmir, they have promised to support similar language in the Senate.
"We're building a long-term relationship," he said. "Of course, this is not against, or to the exclusion of, any other community."
Pakistani American groups don't see it that way.
"This alliance is specifically aimed at Pakistan, aimed at harming Pakistan's interests in this country," charged Faiz Rehman, president of the 3,500-member National Council of Pakistani Americans.
"Where will the Phalcons be focused? On Pakistan," said Riaz Ahmad, a founder of the Pakistani American Congress, an umbrella organization of 44 groups. "It will become an arms race. And you should see how poor India and Pakistan are. How can they afford such things?"
Jeffrey Colman, AIPAC's deputy legislative director, said the cooperation between American Jews and Indians mirrors relations between Israel and India. Although both countries gained independence from Britain at about the same time in 1947-48, they were wary of each other for decades. India, as leader of the non-aligned movement, had close ties to Egypt and the East Bloc.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, India has become one of Israel's largest business partners, with more than $1 billion in trade and many high-tech joint ventures.
So far, the Jewish-Indian alliance in the United States has focused on foreign policy. But the two communities also have combined forces on electoral politics. They worked to defeat former House member Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), whom they perceived as antagonistic both to Israel and to India.
"There was a natural connection already in Atlanta, through the business world, and then when McKinney was bashing both our homelands, we just took our business connections and social connections and made them political," said Harin J. Contractor, an Indian American student at the University of Georgia. "It was a great model to follow."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Extracted 09/05/03 from The Washington Post