Indian business leaders tout political, economic ties to Israel
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
Participants in the sixth Israel India forum met with President Shimon Peres on Wednesday.
Most of them had previously met with Peres in Israel, India or Davos, said one of the forum’s co-chairmen, Jamshyd Godrej. He is chairman and managing director of Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Company Limited, the Mumbai-based consumer durables holding company.
The forum – which focuses on international financial and economic trends and their impact on the economies and ties of the two countries – convenes annually, alternating between Israel and India. In addition, several of its Indian members have business interests in Israel and visit the country periodically.
Godrej recalled his own first meeting with Peres in Davos, Switzerland, at what had been an historic occasion when Peres shook the hand of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.
The forum, comprising policy-makers, captains of industry, academics and diplomats, is a joint endeavor of the Aspen Institute India, Tel Aviv University and the Confederation of Indian Industry.
It is supported by several charitable trusts and foundations.
It is one of several organizations dedicated to the enhancement of political, economic and defense relations between Israel and India.
Godrej said that the relationship between the two countries is an important one. India and Israel have grown close politically and economically, he said, “and there is a robust engagement on defense issues.”
Peres focused on cultural ties and the common history of being freed from British rule, though toward the end of a one-and-a-half hour monologue, he did say that India could be of help in alleviating some of the tensions of the Middle East by telling the Arabs how to escape poverty.
The Arabs are under the impression that foreign aid will do it, but it won’t, said Peres, underlining that many of the donors are now in crisis themselves, aside from which most of the donors are democratic and the receivers of their benevolence are not.
The answer is not money, he said. The answer is introducing Arab societies to science and technology.
In the course of his address, the president gave a passing mention to China, which he frequently refers to as an outstanding example of an economic revolution and an escape from poverty..
Israel entered into full diplomatic relations with China and India in 1992, at which time the volume of trade between Israel and China and between Israel and India, hovered around the $200 million mark. In the interim, the volume of trade with China has increased to around $10 billion and with India to around $5b.
Stanley Bergman, another co-chairman of the forum, and chairman and CEO of Melville, New York-based Henry Schein Inc., a Fortune 500 company and the largest distributor of dental, medical and veterinary products and services to office-based healthcare practitioners in North America and Europe, with more than 11,000 employees and operations in 19 countries, told Peres that discussions at this year’s forum focused on cyber technology, innovation, energy and bilateral trade.
Endorsing the work of the forum, Peres emphasized the importance of continuing dialogue at all levels of humanity around the globe, because as yet, there are not enough answers to solve all the problems confronting humanity.
Speaking of changing norms in an ever-evolving world, Peres mentioned the crisis in political leadership whereby politicians, seeking popularity, no longer fight for popular causes, but get themselves interviewed on television.
“When television becomes the arena of leadership, the people elected are good on television but not on leadership,” he said.
On a more personal note, he made the point that people who have reached socalled retirement age should not be forced to stop working. This has become an bigger issue with the increase of life expectancy, he observed, saying that for many people having to stop work is a tragedy, and not a drawn out vacation.
“I don’t know the joy of a vacation,” said the 90-yearold Peres, who works a 12- to 14-hour day. “I only know the joy of work.”