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Thursday Newsletter 7/6/2023

Dear Reader,

Not long after Jewish Currents news editor Aparna Gopalan first came to work at the magazine as a fellow last year, she and I met up for a getting-to-know-you drink. Aparna told me that she had decided to apply for a job at JC because, as a member of the Indian diaspora, she was deeply invested in drawing attention to ethnonationalist politics in her community—and some of her most generative conversations about how to do so had been with progressive Jews. She was convinced that anti-Hindutva organizers needed to learn from the anti-Zionist left. To illustrate the strategic parallels between the two struggles, she told me about a new effort on the Hindu right to codify a concept of “Hinduphobia” that could be wielded against political opponents. It seemed clear that its architects had drawn inspiration from the way Israel-advocacy organizations have long weaponized accusations of antisemitism. Aparna wondered if, in researching the term’s origins, she might find a story.

Many long months of reporting later, Aparna has delivered a bombshell investigation into the Hindu American organizations advancing this new strategy, published in our Spring issue and now available online. The piece shines a light on the decades-long collaboration between Israel-advocacy organizations and Hindu nationalist groups in the United States. Their members didn’t hesitate to confirm that the effort to formalize a concept of Hinduphobia draws on the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which treats some criticism of Israel as antisemitism. As Aparna reports, accusations of anti-Hindu bigotry have already been used against scholars, journalists, and politicians who condemn Hindu nationalism, as well as against activists who oppose caste discrimination.

In addition to sharing this in-depth report, I’m also writing to share this week’s episode of our podcast, On the Nose, which features a discussion between myself, Aparna, and Azad Essa, a senior reporter at Middle East Eye and author of the important new book Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance Between India and Israel. Our conversation digs deeper into the geopolitical alliances between India, Israel, and the US that undergird the partnerships Aparna covers in her piece.

As Azad warns on the podcast, it seems almost certain that we’ll see more accusations of Hinduphobia leveraged against critics of Hindutva in the coming years. And as both Aparna’s and Azad’s work makes clear, opponents of ethnonationalist politics—in India, Israel, and elsewhere—urgently need to learn from one another; these struggles are not just similar, but linked. To understand this fast-evolving rhetorical terrain, I urge you to listen to the episode and to read Aparna’s deeply researched (and frankly terrifying) piece.

Nora Caplan-Bricker
Executive Editor

The Hindu Nationalists Using the Pro-Israel Playbook
Inspired by Jewish groups that cast criticism of Israel as antisemitism, Hindu American organizations are advancing a concept of “Hinduphobia” that puts India beyond reproach.
Aparna Gopalan
What Indian Ethnonationalists Learned From Israel Advocates

Aparna Gopalan, Azad Essa, and Nora Caplan-Bricker discuss how the hasbara playbook offers a template for defenders of supremacist politics everywhere.