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Rights group slams Israel's praise for India as protests turn ugly in New Delhi

Israel's government sent several messages of goodwill on India's Republic Day while thousands of farmers in New Delhi rallied for repeal of contentious legislation
An Indian farmer throws back a tear gas shell fired by police during a rally against the central government's recent agricultural reforms (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi have developed something of a bromance over the past few years.

The duo routinely share photos on social media enjoying each other's company, whether it be on a beach in Tel Aviv or beside a jet on an airstrip.

But when the Israeli government lavished praise on the 72nd anniversary of the Indian Republic, commending New Delhi's "commitment to ideals to rights and values of the constitution", it prompted a slew of ridicule.

'Both governments have enacted racist legislation, violently suppress dissent and are engaged in illegal military occupations - and all their PR stunts won't stop them from being held accountable for their violations of human rights'

- Sonya Meyerson-Knox, JVP

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of Indian farmers who have been peacefully protesting for the last two months against a set of contentious agricultural laws faced off with police officers as they entered Delhi for a mass rally.

The farmers, riding on horseback and driving tractors, were met with police who discharged tear gas, sound grenades and water cannons and chased them with batons. 

The chaos ensued as farmers forced their way through barricades and checkpoints, with one group eventually entering the 17th-century Red Fort, a symbol of Indian state power and prestige - before planting a series of Sikh religious flags on top of the domes.

At least one farmer was killed, with local media reporting he was shot dead. Around 80 police officers were injured.

Reacting to the Israeli premier's comments, Sonya Meyerson-Knox, communications manager at the progressive organisation Jewish Voice for Peace, told Middle East Eye that it was "all too predictable that Netanyahu would reach out to Modi on a day when Indian police were brutally repressing popular protest".

"Both governments have enacted racist legislation, violently suppress dissent and are engaged in illegal military occupations - and all their PR stunts won't stop them from being held accountable for their violations of human rights."

Likewise, Huma Dar, an adjunct Professor at California College of the Arts, described the message from Netanyahu and the Israeli government as "ironic."

"It was a day when the farmers that feed India were being tear-gassed and baton-charged.

"The Indian constitution - whose coming into effect is celebrated on Indian Republic Day - is in tatters," Dar said.

'A death warrant'

Following the rally and ensuing mayhem, the Indian government shut down the internet in at least three districts in areas surrounding the Red Fort, as well as in districts in the neighbouring state of Haryana. 

But by then, authorities had been dealt an embarrassing blow by the farmers who have been campaigning not just against laws they describe as "a death warrant", but a mainstream media parroting a government line that casts them as "anti-national". 

The farmers, however, have received solidarity from agricultural workers from across the globe, and upon their entry into New Delhi on Monday, received garlands of flowers from well-wishers.

Despite the mounting unrest, the Israeli government continued to shower praise on Modi's government on Tuesday.

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"India's strong commitment to the ideals of rights and values of the constitution is most inspiring," Yariv Levin, speaker of the Israeli Knesset said in a video message to his counterpart in the Indian parliament.

"Israel and India have grown much closer in recent years and I am pleased to see the strategic partnership that has emerged in many fields. I am also proud of the growing friendship between our parliaments which is based on shared values."

Middle East Eye reached out the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment on the violence but did not receive a response by the time of this article's publication.

Ties between India and Israel have strengthened significantly in recent years, especially under Modi and Netanyahu. 

India is the biggest buyer of Israeli arms in the world, exceeding $1bn per year

In March 2020, activists and rights groups criticised the Modi government for going ahead with a weapons deal with Israel worth hundreds of millions of dollars while doctors complained of a shortage of personal protective equipment.

While India has been quick to develop a vaccine, according to official figures around 154,000 people have succumbed to the coronavirus, the third-highest death toll after the US and Brazil.