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Era ends as Israel shuts Mumbai consulate
Lalitha Vaidyanathan in Mumbai | August 18, 2003 11:01 IST
The Israeli consulate in Mumbai, the only place in India where the Israeli flag was flying since 1953 till full diplomatic ties were established in 1992, closed down on July 31 due to financial reasons.
Between 1953 and 1992, the consulate had been the only gateway for people-to-people contact between the two countries, says the former consulate general, Dov Segev Steinberg, who has been transferred to Qatar.
During the last 50 years, Kerala and Maharashtra (from 1992 Karnataka, Gujarat and Goa) were under the jurisdiction of the consulate general, mainly due to the large Jewish population in these two states, Steinberg says.
"There are three groups of Jews in India -- Baghdadi, Bene Israeli and Cochini -- and they have strong feelings for Israel, while at the same time retaining their love for India, where they never faced persecution," he says.
The person who will miss the consulate the most is Roshni Sinor, who served 18 consul generals as personal secretary during her 42-year career, Steinberg says.
Others who served the establishment for long are Mohan Sulti (39 years) and Gangaram Tambe (34 years).
The anticipation and excitement that had preceded the announcement of formal relations cannot be described in words, says Sinor.
"Of course, there were also moments of concern in the life of the consulate when we had to hide the hoisted flag to save the only office that existed in India -- due to tension in the Middle East," she adds.
Steinberg, who spent four years in Mumbai, says India and Israel, which got independence within a year of each other, have grown together.
"A strong family support system and unique texture of warmth in both countries helped to weave a strong cultural, social, economic and scientific fabric," he says.
Now with El Al, the national airlines of Israel, operating from Mumbai, traffic between the two countries has become easier.
Every year around 70,000 Israeli tourists visit India. "More and more Israelis are choosing India as their tourist destination, especially youngsters just out of the army, who find the spirituality of the country soothing and calming," he says.
There is also a large number of Indians (25,000 annually), including Christian pilgrims, businessmen, diamond merchants and Jews, travelling to Israel, he says.
Sinor recalls the exciting, interesting and sometimes dramatic events that took place during her days with the consulate.
"The numerous wars in Israel; the isolation of consulate; the expulsion of a consul from India in 1982; and the kidnapping of Israeli youngsters in Kashmir in 1991 were some of the events that went towards making it an unforgettable experience," she says.
When diplomatic relations were established, there was jubilation and a sense of achievement and the consulate was upgraded to consulate general.
Steinberg says suddenly everything opened up and the relations between the two countries surged forward as never before, as though making up for lost time and sky was the limit as far as trade, culture, exchange of academia, technology, friendship and cooperation were concerned.
The volume of civilian trade has increased from $200 million in 1992 to $1.6 billion during the current year -- clearly showing how quickly the two countries are coming together, says Steinberg.
In the field of information technology, Steinberg says India and Israel complement each other and "cooperation between the two should be able to help other".
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