President Reuven Rivlin was surprised to learn on Monday that despite the strong bilateral effort to enhance relations between Israel and India at all levels, El Al flies there only three times a week. The information was imparted to him by Jamshyd N. Godrej, a co-chair of the India-Israel Forum, which is convening this week in Israel.
The forum, which was founded eight years ago under the auspices of Tel Aviv University, focuses on international economic and financial trends and their impact on the economies of the two countries.
It convenes annually, alternating between Israel and India.
Godrej told Rivlin that members of the forum would like to see an improvement in flights to India.
“There is a great need for better connectivity,” he said.
Rivlin promised that he would speak to the relevant government authorities, with a view to increasing the flights.
Dedicated to the enhancement of political, economic and defense relations between Israel and India, the forum, which is supported by several charitable trusts, is made up of policy-makers, captains of industry, academics and diplomats.
It is a joint endeavor of TAU and Aspen Institute India and the Confederation of Indian Industry.
The forum has grown in strength over the past eight years, Godrej said, adding that discussions during its current meeting in Israel have centered on geopolitics and how to make progress in different areas of trade. Not counting the deep ties in defense technology and appliances, he said that diamonds still made up the bulk of the trade between the two countries.
In addition to attending the joint meetings, Indian visitors also met with Israeli counterparts on issues that included energy, environment, water, agriculture, space exploration, financial services, media, automobiles, electricity, politics, diplomacy and cyber security.
At their meeting with Rivlin, they commented that this past year had been one of visibility – which is very important to the relationship between the two countries – and a good time for harvesting opportunities. They also made the point that India is very keen to have Israeli products made in India.
Rivlin replied that in the early days of the state, Dov Yosef, whose various cabinet portfolios included trade and industry, hammered home the importance of the “Made in Israel” trademark. One of the Indians responded: “We call it ‘Make in India,’ not ‘Made in India.’” Two of the leading figures of Reliance Industries India said they were exploring opportunities that went beyond joint ventures with Israeli companies, including agreements with educational institutions for use of their research. The two said they believed that Israel could also be a partner in building India’s new infrastructure.
Although India’s educational institutions are of a very high standard, Indian students would like to come to Israel to study, Rivlin was told.
He was also told that despite the difference in populations, the number of start-ups in India was more or less equal to that in Israel.
One of the problems in working together is that of cultural differences. Whereas Israelis are always in a hurry, Indians tend to take things slowly.
“Sometimes, walking a little slower means getting to the task faster,” Rivlin said.
Stanley Bergman, a New York-based co-chairman of the forum, spoke of the importance of collaboration and dialogue. He said there has been a lot of collaborative work in security and cyber technology, as well as a lot of discussion on getting incubator technologies from the university to the market.
Rivlin pointed out that cyber research and development were no less important in civilian life than in the military.
He cited banks as a prime example.
Prof. Joseph Klafter, president of Tel Aviv University, noted that TAU had been a catalyst for relations between the two countries and was now building bridges beyond academia. He said he was very proud of the university’s role in the relationship.
In welcoming the forum, Rivlin spoke of his forthcoming state visit to India at the invitation of President Pranab Mukherjee, who was in Israel two weeks ago. He will be accompanied by a large business delegation, and emphasized the need for the two countries to work together on issues such as food production, water conservation and innovation.