Podcast / On The Nose
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What Indian Ethnonationalists Learned From Israel Advocates
Duration
0:00 / 35:10
Published
July 6, 2023

For decades, diaspora Hindus have looked to American Jews as role models for attaining political power in the United States. Hindu Americans have established political groups fashioned after AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Committee; these organizations have worked to advance India’s economic and security interests much as their Jewish counterparts have protected Israel’s.

Now, as India draws scrutiny for its worsening human rights record under far-right Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Hindu nationalist groups in the US are once again looking to their Jewish allies. This time, they’re modeling their efforts on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which casts certain criticism of Israel as anti-Jewish hatred. A new investigation by Jewish Currents news editor Aparna Gopalan shows how Hindu nationalists are promulgating a concept of “Hinduphobia” that equates opposition to Hindu nationalism with anti-Hindu bigotry. On this week’s episode of On the Nose, Gopalan speaks with Jewish Currents executive editor Nora Caplan-Bricker and Middle East Eye senior reporter Azad Essa about Hinduphobia, the India–Israel alliance, and the potential for the hasbara playbook to be followed by ethnonationalist movements worldwide.

Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”

Articles Mentioned and Further Reading

The Hindu Nationalists Using the Pro-Israel Playbook,” Aparna Gopalan, Jewish Currents

The US Rolls Out the Red Carpet For Modi,” Aparna Gopalan, Jewish Currents

How Modi uses yoga to whitewash India’s crimes,” Azad Essa, Middle East Eye

Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance Between India and Israel by Azad Essa

The Settler-Colonialist Alliance of India and Israel,” Deeksha Udupa, The Nation

How the Hindus Became Jews: American Racism After 9/11,” Vijay Prashad, South Atlantic Quarterly

What FBI data about anti-Hindu hate crimes in the US reveals about fears of ‘Hinduphobia,’” Raju Rajagopal, Scroll.in

A Gandhi statue is toppled in Queens, but was it a hate crime?” Arun Venugopal, Gothamist

Diasporic Desires: Making Hindus & the Cultivation of Longing in the United States and Beyond by Shana Sippy (forthcoming from New York University Press)


Transcript

Nora Caplan-Bricker: Hi, and welcome to On the Nose, the podcast of Jewish Currents. I’m Nora Caplan-Bricker, the Executive Editor of Jewish Currents, and I’ll be hosting today, standing in for Editor in Chief Arielle Angel. Today, we’ll be talking about an article by my colleague, Jewish Currents News Editor Aparna Gopalan, titled “The Hindu Nationalists Using the Pro-Israel Playbook.” Aparna spent months investigating the relationships between right-wing Hindu organizations in the US and the American Jewish establishment. These communities have worked together for decades, lobbying for shared defense goals in Washington and pursuing a joint geopolitical vision. More recently, Hindu American groups have started adapting the famed Hasbara tactics that Jewish groups have used to shape the narrative about Israel and fend off criticism of its human rights abuses. They’ve employed similar strategies to shield an increasingly-ethnonationalist India from scrutiny. At the center of this new strategy is an effort to promulgate a concept of quote-unquote “Hinduphobia” that’s closely modelled on pro-Israel groups’ preferred definition of antisemitism. Joining me to talk about all of this is my colleague, Jewish Currents News Editor, Aparna Gopalan, and Azad Essa, a senior reporter for Middle East Eye and the author of the new book Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance Between India and Israel. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Aparna Gopalan: Thank you, Nora.

Azad Essa: Thanks, Nora. Happy to be here.

NCB: So to start, I want to ask: What is this Hinduphobia strategy that Hindu American organizations have been developing?

AG: When something happens that brings India under scrutiny for human rights violations, Hinduphobia is the allegation that comes in to change the conversation. So the piece opens with this parade that happens in New Jersey, which is the Indian Independence Day Parade. The parade was taken over by Hindu nationalists. They had their own guests attending from the Hindu paramilitary group, the RSS; there were spokespeople of Modi’s BJP party; and, most notably, the parade had a bulldozer among its different floats, which was a very jarring symbol for Indian Muslims to look at because Modi has been using bulldozers in India to demolish Muslim homes and storefronts, and as a symbol of Hindu supremacy. So there was a lot of criticism that the parade drew initially, and New Jersey politicians came out and said, “This is Islamophobic.” But, very quickly, Hindu groups changed the conversation. They said, “Criticism of the parade is Hinduphobic.” So they released a letter, which was signed by 60 Hindu groups, and a lot of them Hindu nationalist groups, basically talking about anti-Hindu bias, and about Hindus as a minority community under threat in America, and how criticizing this parade is basically going after the entire Hindu American community.

And that’s just one example of so many instances in which this strategy is used. So when there’s resolutions in US Congress, which are looking to condemn India’s human rights violations, those resolutions are then passed as Hinduphobic, and then they don’t pass. Or when Joe Biden appointed an advisor who is a Hindu nationalist, there were criticisms of that appointment, and then those criticisms were called Hinduphobic. Most interestingly, in reporting the piece, I found that criticism of Hinduphobia is increasingly being used against South Asian people. So, for example, that the most famous Hinduphobic incidents that every single Hindu nationalist group I talked to mentioned was what they call “the Taco Bell incident,” where there is a Hindu man who goes to a Taco Bell, and then there’s a Sikh man who is there, and he hurled abuses at the Hindu man in what’s very clearly religious bigotry or racism, but he also has criticisms of India as a colonial project. And those two things are conflated in calling it Hinduphobia. And so, this instance is a famous Hinduphobic instance now, and similarly, when people in the US vandalize statues of Gandhi–who is a symbol of oppression for many Indian minorities, especially caste minorities–that is also now called Hinduphobic.

So basically, if you’re South Asian and if you’re a minority, you just can’t criticize anything about India because you become Hinduphobic. So that’s kind of what it’s doing: The strategy is conflating Hinduism with Hindutva, which is the far-right Hindu supremacist ideology. It makes the two things be one. In fact, on the website of the Hindu American Foundation, there’s all these examples of Hinduphobia, and it includes everything from “dot head”–which is obviously a slur–to, you know, criticizing Modi as fascist: Those are equally Hinduphobic. And so in here, you can start seeing the parallels between Hinduphobia and the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which conflates criticisms of Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry. Hinduphobia is very consciously modeled on IHRA. Hindu nationalist groups literally told me that “We are modeling it on antisemitism, we’re watching how that’s playing out and how successful it is, and we want to make it just like that.”

NCB: I’d like to rewind now and talk a little bit about the history of this collaboration between the Jewish establishment in the US and these Hindu-right groups. Azad, you have a really helpful quote in your book, where you’re riffing on some writing by the scholar of South Asian history, Vijay Prashad, and you say, “As Jews had become white folks in the 1960s, Hindus became Jews in the latter half of the 20th century.” I think this is a really useful frame, and I’d love to talk a little bit about: How did this collaboration, this relationship, and even this kind of modeling of Hindu diaspora politics on Jewish diaspora politics take root? And how did it evolve over the later decades of the 20th century? And in particular, how did this accelerate after 9/11? And what role did Islamophobia in particular play in cementing these communities together?

AE: So I think for this we need to start off in the early 90s. By early 1990, you have these three movements that come together. You have this affluent Indian American community who have been in the country for about 20 or 30 years, who have now become a lot more settled. Their organizations are a lot more developed. They want to have more influence in the US, And they see this Hindu nationalist movement sweeping across the country. They also see it linked to the country’s change to a liberal market economy, And they want to get in on the act, essentially. So they start investing money into India and into those organizations. And, at the same time, the Indian government, the Congress Party, is told that, “if you want to get close to the US, and you want to join the global economy, you’ve got to be closer to Israel.” So you have these three streams that come together, because each side has a stake in this. Hindu nationalists want Israel to be closer to India, they want this market economy to be implemented, and they want more influence in the US. And so in the early 90s, these organizations start working with these pro-Israel organizations, and they are the ones that essentially teach them how to lobby, teach them how to raise funds, how to create a PAC, build up internship programs on Capitol Hill. So they create that access. So Israel and India normalized ties in the 90s, and by the 2000s, the arms deals start improving in terms of size, to around 20 or 25%, as you rightly say.

In the early 2000s, you have 9/11. That takes place, and this allows these organizations to essentially adopt a kind of civilizational rhetoric to their economic and political argument and political alliances. So now they both say that “we are working against these terrorists, these Muslim terrorists.” So 9/11 becomes the excuse for many militaries around the world to essentially bulk up, and India is no different. India also bulks up on the legal front with regards to passing off Patriot Act-type legislation in India itself, in which it gives the government far-reaching powers to surveil, to arrest, to hold people on any kind of charge that links up to this this War on Terror. So the relationship builds through the 2000s, and that’s when you have Ariel Sharon also traveling to India as well. And you see this increasing talk of these two civilizations battling it out. It’s under the Congress Party that this relationship really accelerates between 2000 and 2010, of which the Congress Party was in charge for about six years. India purchased around $10 billion worth of arms. And then another significant thing happens around 2008–this attack takes place in Mumbai, and several Israelis are killed in this attack. And that attack is called “India’s 9/11.” And so it kind of tethers Israel to India’s biggest terror attack till today; that attack is seen as, like, an attack on both of us. And so, as a result, India is allowed to accelerate the technology sharing that takes place between India and Israel. And so India starts sending police officers to Israel to learn about counterterrorism tactics, Netanyahu and Modi become really close after 2014. This also accelerates what Aparna is talking about in terms of Hinduphobia as India and Israel become closer. We’re not just talking about them working together in terms of lobbying, but pretty much imbibing all of the tactics of the Zionist lobby: creating blacklists, attacking curriculums, creating the kind of structure in which you aren’t able to speak about India without being labeled Hinduphobic

AG: I think I’ll just echo one thing as Azad said, which is: This talk of the “civilizational relationship” is very much with us still. So there’s this one event between the Zionist group Stand With Us and the Hindu nationalist group Hindu American Foundation, and the event was to compare Hinduphobia and antisemitism. That was the whole point. And it was a three-part series and hours and hours of webinars. The first webinar, the entire thing–for like, an hour and a half–was just about the civilizational similarities between India and Israel. We both celebrate religious holidays (like, yeah, everyone does that). But this is just this real effort to kind of code this Islamophobic affinity into something much more ancient, much more primordial, and much more legitimate. Every commonality that they are able to assert is then turned around and used to smear the critics. That’s the ultimate goal of all this.

NCB: Obviously, we just saw India’s Prime Minister Modi just visited the US and had this incredible red carpet rollout that both of you wrote about at the time. This kind of treatment that’s reserved for the US’s closest allies. He was kind of feted in both New York and Washington. And of course, Modi has also visited Israel and been literally and figuratively embraced by Benjamin Netanyahu. And those images have been captured in the press and celebrated, certainly by the pro-Israel lobby, which also loves to kind of write op-eds about this trilateral alliance as partly a success of their own lobbying and organizing. So I would love to just talk a little bit about what’s the current state of this kind of geopolitical alliance, and how is it shaping geopolitics more broadly, in this moment.

AE: So as India’s relationship with Israel developed and strengthened, India’s relationship with the US obviously improved as well. And the US began seeing India as a partner–not exactly an ally, but a partner. In other words, Israel uses India to expand its markets, and sell its weapons, and earn legitimacy in the third world. India uses Israel to expand its weapons arsenal, borrow its technology and methods, and earn trust in the West. And what happens now, in terms of the current context, is that the US is kind of convinced that India is an immense partner in the economic war against China. And it sees India as kind a pool of limitless labor, and as a capitalist partner, and also a kind of interlocutor with the third world. It sees India as kind of like a tech and labor partner, and even as an ideological ally. And we know that Indian people have a huge affinity for the US. So it’s an extremely transactional relationship, but it’s a relationship that the US in particular is seeing for the medium to long term.

NCB: So we’ve talked a fair bit about how this whole strategy of calling any criticism of India or of Hindutva “Hinduphobic” works to kind of camouflage or legitimize Islamophobic politics. But, Aparna, in your piece, you also wrote pretty extensively about how these same strategies are leveraged against caste-oppressed people, both in the South Asian diaspora and in India. The groups that you wrote about have been very active in going after activists who oppose the caste system, and Dalit activists, Dalits being people from the lowest stratum of the caste system: caste-oppressed people. For example, in the US, we’ve recently seen some legislation banning discrimination on the basis of caste after a series of findings that caste still really actively impacts the lives of South Asian people in the US; for example, underlying discriminatory hiring practices in Silicon Valley. And when these ordinances or bills that banned caste discrimination have come up at the city level or the state level, we’ve often seen these Hindu nationalist American groups mobilize really, really fiercely against that legislation by calling it an existential threat to their safety, claiming that it’s going to take away their livelihoods, it’s going to make it impossible for them to drive in a certain place or enter a certain city because their lives will be in danger. So how does caste fit into the larger Hindutva project? And how does anti-caste political consciousness perhaps threaten that project? And what is the narrative that these right-wing Hindu-American groups are promulgating when they make these really, really extreme claims about how anti-caste legislation threatens their lives and well-being?

AG: I think one thing–it’s kind of obvious, in a certain way, that this is an upper-caste movement. So they are just invested in their own power. But I think there’s another level on which anti-caste movements are actually threatening the very foundation of Hindutva. Very much like Israeli Zionism, Indian Hindutva is based on a claim of numerical supremacy basically, like “There’s many more of us, right, and so this is our land.” But actually, if there’s significant anti-caste activism coming from every caste stratum underneath the top one, then Hindus are no longer a majority. You know, if those folks say “We’re not Hindu anymore,” if they’re like, not just the Dalits, but the Bahujans and all the other people who are not at the top of the caste hierarchy; if they all basically disavow Hinduism, Hindutva has no foundation anymore. And so it’s really an existential threat in that sense to–not to Hindus, but to the project of Hindu supremacy. That demographic conceit is no longer operative. So that’s the context in which we have to understand the hysterical anxiety–and it really is hysterical.

One of the interviews I did with a Hindu right group, it was right after Seattle banned caste discrimination. I asked them, “What do you think of Seattle?” One of them said, “I don’t want to drive into Seattle anymore, I’m so anxious.” And then the other one said, “Now the Dalits can come after us. If they don’t get a job that they applied for, they’re gonna come after us.” Now, they said to me, “If you go out on a date with someone, and they’re Dalit and it didn’t go well, and you don’t go on a second date? Now they can come after you for that.” So it’s just like a level of hysteria. And so what they doing with it is they want to ban mentions of caste in textbooks in the US. So in the US, when India is taught, like these very brief 10 sentences about India, and one of the words in those sentences is caste? They don’t want that word there. They don’t want any laws or any policies at workplaces and universities that mention caste, because they say even the mention of caste is Hinduphobic, to even say that word is Hinduphobic. Even if many of these laws actually explicitly say “Caste is not a Hindu thing,” the Hindu right doesn’t believe that, and they just kind of insist that you can’t mention it. So it’s really an effort to completely erase caste, which is really the only way that their project makes any sense.

AE: Yeah, it kind of shows how deeply entrenched Hindutva is in the diaspora as well. When you look at the Carnegie study, for instance, that came out in 2020 or 2021, you find that there are so many Indian Americans who are Modi supporters, right? And caste, to a large extent, is kind of like the elephant in the room. They aren’t able to talk about it. And when these matches come up, it becomes very, very awkward, and also very, very uncomfortable. And I think we’re going to see more of that in the coming years.

NCB: I want to just sort of stay with this question about, as Aparna put it, the hysteria that we see when these issues come up. Another person Aparna spoke with for this story, the scholar Shana Sippy, calls this “an affective politics of fear,” which I think is a really useful way of thinking about what this is doing. And I just kind of wanted to pause on this and ask you both if you have additional thoughts about the significance of the tonal valence of this narrative, or how that makes these politics even more effective, or perhaps kind of harder to counteract. I mean, this politics of fear, I think, felt really familiar to me, because we sometimes see versions of this in the Jewish community as well; that if you criticize Israel, or you threaten Israel’s existence as a Jewish-supremacist project, then you’re taking away that security for Jews globally. And even Jews living in the US, in many cases, feel that that’s in some way, an existential threat to them, that they need that homeland as almost like an insurance policy for Jewish safety or something.

AG: One thing about the politics of fear–and this is actually, to me, also working at Jewish Currents, very familiar–is, for example, when there’s an antisemitic attack, right? As soon as the attack happens, obviously, it shouldn’t have happened and it is antisemitic. And you want to say that, and at the same time, the way that it becomes framed immediately puts progressives on the back foot, because you don’t want to join the chorus, right? So I feel like there is a small amount of that happening with Hinduphobia, and that there are actually racist attacks against Indian people in the US. And I mean, I don’t think they’re so targeted, that someone’s sitting in their house and planning who the Hindus are in the neighborhood, but they do sometimes target Hindus. And so that is bad and shouldn’t happen. But the way that it gets framed in the media or by these Hindu right groups is asserting a structural equivalence between what’s happening to Hindus and what’s happening to other groups, when there’s actually not an equivalence.

The numbers bear this out, in that the Hindu-right lobbied to get the FBI to measure ant-Hindu hate crimes separately from every other type of anti-Indian or other hate crimes, because they wanted to have some data to prove that there is Hinduphobia, and they completely failed, because the data, what it shows, is that Hindus are, out of 35 religious groups in the US, the least likely to be subjected to hate crimes. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses are under that. Muslims are eight times more likely to experience hate crimes than Hindus are; Jews are 12 times more likely, and Sikhs are 128 times more likely. This is from Hindus for Human Rights, which is a progressive Hindu group. So there’s no need for the hysteria because the data doesn’t actually bear it out.

And then the second part of it is actually the hysteria. So every Hindu right source I talked to brought up the Nazis and said, “That’s what’s gonna happen to us as Hindus.” They basically had this image of the ticking clock, and they were like, “We need to do something because it took the Nazis a decade to do what they did. And that decade for us Hindus is right now. So we need to act right now. Otherwise, there’s going to be a genocide against us.” And it’s very effective, because even people who are not Modi supporters but are Hindus in the US have experienced some racism. And so when someone says “Something really bad’s gonna happen, it’s going to get much worse,” they get afraid. And then they start listening to these groups. And then, before you know it, they’re talking to the Hindu American Foundation, because that’s who is generating this fear. It’s very similar to–one of my sources talked about how the ADL will kind of email your grandmother every time there’s an antisemitic attack and basically be like, “This is the Holocaust again, give us money.” And that is very similar to what these groups are doing; they’re really just copying and pasting that narrative. And it’s very scary and very effective,

AE: I think we have to pin it down to a kind of deliberate strategy of misinformation. It’s an attempt to derail. And we’ve also got to consider who these groups are working with, you know? We’re talking about Jihad Watch and Middle East Forum, these majorly funded right-wing organizations that have, for decades, seen how antisemitism can be weaponized.

NCB: So, Aparna, in your piece, in addition to reporting on these right-wing collaborations between Hindu nationalist groups and the American Jewish establishment in the US, you also learned that there’s kind of a mirror-image process of learning and working together that’s happening on the left. That in the world of progressive organizing, the organizations that have grown up and are trying to create a kind of anti-Hindutva consensus in the US (or at least sort of work toward an anti-Hindutva political consciousness existing at all) are also learning from anti-Zionist groups, as much as the kind of groups that they’re pushing against are learning from Zionist organizations and pro-Israel lobbying groups. And so I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about that collaboration.

AG: Yeah, that’s a good question. It turns out that one of the very few Hindu groups that is anti-Hindutva–and that’s like, their whole goal and rationale for existence, is to be anti Hindutva–is Hindus for Human Rights, which was founded in 2019. And Hindus for Human Rights was explicitly founded as a mirror image of Jewish Voice for Peace, which is an anti-occupation group that has been doing anti-Zionist activism for a very long time. And the way that that process went is, basically, one of the people who founded Hindus for Human Rights. Sunita Viswanath, her partner is a Jewish Voice for Peace activist. And so basically, Sunita was like, “What is the model that I can follow to create a group like this?” and didn’t have to look very far. And Jewish Voice for Peace has run trainings, runs retreats, has talked about strategy, provided all these kinds of informal support. And I think it’s so crucial that this partnership exists on the left, because there’s certain things that become possible. For example, Hindus for Human Rights is now able to do things like try to reclaim something about Hinduism that isn’t Hindutva; like, people who are attached to being Hindus, who don’t want to abandon the religion and culture that they’re coming from: you can still go to temple, you can still be a Hindu while not being a Hindu nationalist. So I think that that space opening up is very reminiscent of what I’ve seen Jewish Currents doing: creating a way to be Jewish that is not about being pro-Israel. So that collaboration is just super critical, because it’s not just two parallel systems, it’s one system.

AE: I think this collaboration is extremely important, because if these oppressors are going to work with each other, then there has to be a coordinated response. Anything else is going to be counterproductive. I would say that there are several differences between the anti-Hindutva lobby with the anti-Zionist lobby. So for instance, from what I’ve understood from my reporting on this topic, as well, many Indian Americans, they see India as home, and they want to return. And when it comes to many anti-Zionist Jews, they understand that Israel is not home, or at least they’re willing to forego it. And when it comes to Indian Americans and Hindu Americans, there’s a struggle there for many of them, right? And this means that the Indian authorities are able to leverage this.

Secondly, anti-Zionism has a much longer tradition. We are only at the beginning of this anti-Hindutva story, right? And I don’t think, all good intentions aside, you can’t just take an organization and just like replicate it; it requires a lot of work. And I’m not saying they’re not doing it, but I think we need to be careful, also, about overstating the collaborations, because they’re still trying to work it out. So for instance, are Hindus for Human Rights trying to save democracy? What do they do with caste, especially in a context in which there are so many upper castes Hindus in the US working in tech, working in the media, in business, in politics, meaning that all of this is going to be extremely hard to dislodge because they are beneficiaries of this privilege? And if Modi goes tomorrow, what does it mean for the caste-oppressed people in India? What does it mean for Kashmiris? What does it mean for all of the other things completely linked to this authoritarian capitalism that’s unfolding in India (because that’s what it ultimately is, also)? And that’s what Israel is also about as well. It’s about creating these spaces for these billionaires to run riot, right?

And one of the other things is that I pointed out–you can correct me if I’m wrong–but I don’t know if you’re seeing working class Hindus speaking up about this matter. So it’s also a class issue here. Whereas, you know, with the anti-Zionist Jews, there are working class people speaking up, which means that they can connect with other issues, and they can connect with farm issues and labor issues. And they can create a larger broad-based movement. Whereas when it comes to fighting Hindutva in the Indian community, it’s very much a kind of liberal project still. So I’m not trying to put a spoke in wheels, and I’m not saying that people aren’t trying–Hindus for Human Rights are doing very important work, because they also amplifying some of the things that Indian Muslims can’t say out loud in the US, because they will be in deep trouble, right? But I think some of these conversations aren’t also moving in the public space. And I believe that they have to–otherwise you’re not really going to build a movement that’s going to surpass just the question of Modi.

AG: I think that’s exactly right about the class issue. And again, Hindus for Human Rights does great work. And I think they’re very necessary in, like, enabling my parents to remain Hindus but not become pro-Modi. But there is a liberalism that runs through the Indian left and the Indian American left. It was very clear during the Modi visit, for example, where there were tons and tons of criticism about the human rights record, right? Which is bad and should be criticized, but it almost felt like if Modi had been Manmohan Singh, who was Prime Minister before him–who was also buying weapons from the US–it would have not been such a big problem, because the human rights violations were not so front and center. And that’s a limitation, right, because Manmohan Singh was also crushing labor, was also arresting Muslims, was also doing counterterrorism in Kashmir. And so that is something that’s really absent. And I do think that the Jewish left is a left, and I think the Indian left is maybe not so much a left, it’s just not a right. And that remains to be seen, how sufficient that is. And I think maybe one of the hopes is not just Hindu groups, but Dalit groups in the US who are trying to do stuff around caste protections, which I think straddles the line between liberal and leftist, because some of these caste protections actually affect livelihoods. And if you really, truly are able to ban caste discrimination in the city of Seattle, it’s gonna affect restaurant workers, it’s gonna affect construction workers, it’s going to affect temple workers. And I think that’s not how it’s being implemented right now, because there’s not, like, the ground game to implement the law in restaurants, and temples, and construction sites. But those minority efforts in the US are maybe a starting point for building some kind of working-class base.

AE: One of the things I wanted to say is that, of course, Hinduphobia is used to conflate criticism of Hindutva and Indian policies with hatred of Hindus, right? But part of this effort to confuse things is to also bring in the question of development and governance. Meaning that Modi’s government is about trying to improve governance in India, trying to improve the rule of law in India. And so you have a lot of people within the Indian American community that, because of their caste status, they’re not working class and they’re not part of any other larger struggles. If they are told immediately that this is a governance issue, they might believe that, and then when you add Hinduphobia to it after that, then it becomes this case where you are easily able to persuade people–who don’t understand their privilege to some extent, also–to believe that all this criticism about Modi is about jealousy. It’s about India becoming powerful, and now we want to drag them down. So I feel as if, just as Israel talks about their security all the time, India uses development as its first port of call in trying to defend the country. And that also speaks to a very Orientalist (as well as Islamophobic) idea of Muslims in India being backward, and being dirty, and being lawless, and we need to clean it up. So there’s a lot going on there.

NCB: That has me thinking about some of the ways that I think, in this moment, in the Jewish community in the US and globally, we’re kind of at this unclear crossroads where there’s this new upsurge, certainly in the US, of discomfort in the liberal Jewish community around what’s going on in Israel/Palestine, and about the current Israeli government and the open authoritarianism there. But there’s a question of like: Is this a rupture? Is this something new? Or is this a continuation? Which is much more the analysis on the left for the most part, that this is a continuation along that utter colonial trajectory that’s been ongoing for decades. And so I think some of these questions about, like: Is this a liberal critique that can be satisfied by the maintenance of certain democratic institutions? Or is this a critique that kind of gets deeper into the colonial ground of a political project or a state formation? As much as I also think it’s valuable that we’re talking here about some of the limitations of the comparative frame, or the need to hold a lot of the nuance around what’s different, I’m kind of continually reminded in this conversation about the value of being in conversation or of doing the comparative work.

I think the last question that I wanted to close on here–we may have anticipated–but I think one clear takeaway here is that if you make a really effective playbook that makes right-wing authoritarianism, and ethnonationalism possible or palatable, other people are going to be able to use that playbook for their ethnonationalist project also, that you can’t confine that to one lane. But I just wanted to ask a little bit about, as you both look ahead: How does this sort of transposability of these strategies–maybe even beyond these two contexts that we’ve been discussing–affect your thinking about how we contend with them, or even affect your thinking about how you work as people chronicling these movements and struggles?

AE: I think we are all trying to figure this out. Right now, the important thing for me is that we don’t need to necessarily think of people using entire tactics from another place; they draw what they like from those places, or from those models, you know? Whether it is a law, whether it is a kind of utilization of mobs, and vigilantes--which, you know, you see what’s happening in the West Bank right now, with the settlers? Similar things are taking place in India, when it comes to how are they going through Muslim areas, right? So, it’s not the same thing. But there are similar kinds of methods. Now with regards to the implication for all of us, I think this Hinduphobia label is something that we have to track and watch very carefully, because that is going to be one of the things that’s going to be used against journalists like ourselves and politicians or activists in trying to demonize them with regards to jobs, to travel, with regards to access to things–which is what the IHRA definition also tries to do, right? And so there’s a clear replication there.

AG: Right now, actually, just like a half hour ago, there was an article in OpIndia about my article, calling me, you, Audrey Truschke, Raqib Naik: Everybody’s Hinduphobic. And I’ve seen that before. I started out in college as a Palestine Solidarity organizer, and this is what was happening then, 10 years ago. And so it’s being transposed. Like when a critical article comes out, you need to put out your own article like the next day, going after every single person mentioned.

AE: And then what happens is that because there’s an article, then someone tweets about it, and then it goes to a think tank that’s associated with those people. And then it actually ends up on the Indian Foreign Minister’s desk. So there’s, like, an entire ecosystem. And for people to believe that, “Oh, I’m not Muslim, I’m not Kashmiri, I’m not Dalit, I’m not this, I’m not that,” to believe that they’re not going to be targeted, is also a falsity, which also, in the Israeli case, shows to be true, right? If you are an anti-Zionist Jew, you’re also going to be on someone’s list if you say the wrong thing. So no one is safe, which is, ultimately, I think, the answer: It’s that none of us are safe. And I think we have to consider that continuously if we are going to build those solidarities and these partnerships and stop thinking primarily about ourselves.

NCB: Well, thank you both so much for being with me today on On the Nose. And thank you to our listeners for tuning in. Again: Aparna’s piece is “The Hindu Nationalists Using the Pro-Israel Playbook,” and you can find it at JewishCurrents.org (or you can subscribe to read it in print). And Azad Essa’s book is Hostile Homelands, out from Pluto Press, and we encourage you to keep tuning in for On the Nose. Subscribe and find us wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you.

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