Congress Met Netanyahu Behind Closed Doors, Modi Does it Publically: PM's Confidant Zafar Sareshwala

Zafar Sareshwala, the Chancellor of Hyderabad’s Maulana Azad National Urdu University and a confidant of PM Narendra Modi, told News18 it was a welcome step that India has finally “dehyphenated” Israel and Palestine.

New Delhi: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to welcome his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu who is coming to India on a five-day visit, his confidant Zafar Sareshwala said it was commendable that India was finally shunning the “symbolism” in its West Asia policy.

The Chancellor of Hyderabad’s Maulana Azad National Urdu University, who was on a recent trip to Israel and Palestine, told News18 it was a welcome step that India has finally “dehyphenated” Israel and Palestine. Breaking the decades old convention, PM Modi had visited only Israel last year. A separate trip to Palestine could be on the cards, speculated Sareshwala.

“We don’t want symbolism. In the past, I have congratulated the PM for not wearing a skullcap and for not holding Iftar parties. The same symbolism has to be done away with in diplomacy as well,” he said.

“The difference between Congress’ and Modi’s style of dealing with Israel is that the Congress would meet Netanyahu behind closed doors, while Modi does it publically,” said Sareshwala.

Apart from diplomats and government officials, Netanyahu’s entourage to India will include businessmen with whom Sareshwala’s Ahmedabad-based Parsoli Corp is scheduled to sign agreements for water conservation and desalination.

Sareshwala’s agreements with Israeli firms would continue an age-old association between Gujarati businessmen and Israel. The first Indian politician to visit Israel was former Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel, who travelled to Israel in 1990, two years before New Delhi and Tel Aviv established diplomatic relations.

Talking about his Palestine visit, Sareshwala said he visited Rawabi, Palestine’s first planned city on the West Bank. Much like his meeting with Anat Berko, his meeting with the city’s 35-year-old mayor, Sheikh Rayyan, left an indelible mark.

He said only four Indian names are popular in Palestine — Salman Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Narendra Modi and Smriti Irani. ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (which starred Irani in the lead role) airs with Arabic subtitles. Many people wanted to know if I had met her,” said Sareshwala.

Sareshwala’s visit to Israel and Palestine came in the first week of October last year, during which he also met four Israeli lawmakers. Among these lawmakers was Dr Anat Berko, a former national security adviser and said to be a member of Netanyahu’s inner circle.

Sareshwala said it was this meeting which left him awe-struck. “She was fluent in Quran and Hadith and gave Arabic translations to my quotes on Prophet Mohammad."

Sareshwala said he was surprised to see that the Israeli parliament has a higher representation of Muslims than the Indian parliament. Of 116 lawmakers in Knesset, 16 are Muslims.

Recalling his address at the iconic Bar-llan University in Israel, Sareshwala rued that the world had “wrongly painted all Jews with the same brush, just as all Muslims are being seen as terrorists”.

The highlight of his visit, Sareshwala said, was a visit to the Biblical city of Nazareth, which is a start-up hub today. “Of 39 companies, 19 were owned by Muslims. There is comfortable intermingling among Christians, Muslims and Jews,” he said.​