Indians and Jews Partner on U.S – India Civil Nuclear Deal

In recognition that the real deal-making at the party conventions happens not in the spotlight of primetime but in the backrooms off the convention hall, a morning breakfast yesterday between Indian and Jewish Americans underscored the role both groups hope to play in helping finalize the U.S-India civil nuclear power deal in the coming months.

Arranged by the American Jewish Committee, the breakfast on “Advancing Indian-Jewish relations” focused heavily on the importance of passing the civil nuclear deal not just for the betterment of India’s future, but also for Israel’s.

Allowing India to have a nuclear program would ensure that, “Israel doesn’t stand alone with a bunch of bad guys without having a good guy in the mix,” said Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY). “Israel gets cover,” Ackerman said, acknowledging the widespread belief that Israel has a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

While the U.S.-India nuclear agreement is ostensibly meant to ease the import of material needed for generating power, India’s nuclear weapons program has caused the international community to lump the country in with Iran and North Korea for violating or sidestepping international non-proliferation agreements. But Ackerman and representatives from the Indian and Israeli consulate generals said the international community should make an exception for the world’s largest democracy.

Jewish support for the Indian nuclear energy deal has been critical in helping to get it passed by Congress, according to Indian fundraisers and political staffers at the breakfast.

Swadesh Chatterjee, a longtime Indian American fundraiser at the breakfast who has lobbied hard for the nuclear deal, said that the Indian community lacked the legislative clout to lobby for the deal and that support from the Jewish community and Israel supporters had been “critical.”

Ackerman pledged that Jewish politicians and the community as a whole would continue to push for the passage of the civil nuclear deal.

The tough talk on foreign policy was cushioned by stressing perceived cultural similarities between the two groups. Participants repeatedly referred to the notion that Indians and Jews in the United States form a natural alliance and share an emphasis on family, a strong work ethic and a commitment to education.

“We recognize we have two mothers,” Ackerman said of the allegiance that both groups felt for their respective homelands.

Ackerman said that it appeared unlikely the civil nuclear deal will pass before Congress adjourns on September 26th despite Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice’s statement that it is a policy priority. The deal has to be ratified by the 45-nation nuclear supplier group before it comes back to Congress for a final vote. Ackerman warned that they couldn’t allow the bill to get, “amended to death,” in Congress. He also said that despite the support that both presidential candidates have expressed for the deal, neither candidate would be likely to sign it without re-visiting the agreement.