India abstains as UNHRC adopts anti-Israel resolution embracing biased Gaza report

India abstains as UNHRC adopts anti-Israel resolution embracing biased Gaza report
Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Modi

The UN Human Rights Council closed out its 29th session on July 3 by passing its 62nd resolution against Israel, more than it has passed for every other country combined. This resolution, in which the Council adopted its Commission of Inquiry’s misleading Gaza report, saw ‘yes’ votes from 41 of 47 Council members, including countries Israel has traditionally considered allies such as Germany and France (although there may have been tactical considerations behind the European vote.) The sole ‘no’ vote came from the United States, and five countries abstained, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Macedonia, and Paraguay.

But Israel saw perhaps a surprising diplomatic victory in the fifth abstention: India.

India was one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a power bloc that has developed a substantial anti-Israel voting record at the UN and other international bodies. India enjoys friendly relations with many Arab countries, and has traditionally voted for all anti-Israel resolutions.

Yet the ties between India and Israel have been gradually warming since India’s formal diplomatic recognition of Israel in 1992. The countries have enjoyed vast cooperation in defence and agriculture technologies-India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment, and the countries are currently negotiating a bilateral free-trade agreement. Earlier this year, Moshe Ya’alon became the first Israeli defence minister to visit India.

While India has recognised Israel for more than 20 years, relations between the two countries have publicly flourished only recently as Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in May 2014. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Modi met last year in New York at the UN General Assembly (a meeting analysed by AIJAC here), and, upon Netanyahu’s re-election this past March, Modi was one of the first leaders to publicly congratulate him via Twitter.

Furthermore, not long after Modi was elected, his government rejected an anti-Israel resolution in India’s parliament sponsored by the opposition in the midst of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s conflict with Hamas last year. Modi is planning to visit Israel later this year, and although he visited Israel previously as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2006, this will mark the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister. Moreover, on July 7, just days after the UN vote abstention, a senior delegation from India’s Foreign Ministry visited Jerusalem to engage in a “strategic dialogue.”

Officials from Netanyahu’s office have confirmed that he spoke to Modi in the days before the vote, asking him to abstain. Interestingly enough, then-Ambassador of Israel to India Mark Sofer predicted this type of change in voting behaviour at the UN in an interview five years ago. (For more of AIJAC’s analyses on Israel-India relations, see here.) Israel publicly thanked India for abstaining via a tweet from Israel’s current ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon.

India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup has elaborated that India’s abstention was primarily concerned with the resolution’s references to the International Criminal Court (ICC): India, like Israel, is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC. Swarup noted that India has also abstained from other resolutions directly referencing the ICC.

Nevertheless, India’s abstention remains a significant symbolic victory for Israel. India has emphasised its middle-man status in the Middle East, noting its friendly relations with Israel while also remarking that “there is no change in India’s long standing position on support to the Palestinian cause.” It remains to be seen whether, in the midst of India’s growing friendship with Israel, it will continue to drift away from a Non-Aligned Movement pattern of behaviour.


Miriam Smallman