Pro-Palestinian activists with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) in South Asia have joined progressive commentators in slamming the Israeli prime minister over his visit to India and his Bollywood charm offensive attempting to brush off abuses against Palestine.
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Apoorva Gautam, who heads the pro-Palestine BDS movement in South Asia, said Israel's appeal to Bollywood is a symptom of a bigger "ideological shift" in the country since the election of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.
"These initiatives are ultimately part of a wider move by the Israelis to improve its image globally, as it continues to perpetrate war crimes against the Palestinians," Gautam told Middle East Eye Friday. "The Israelis' attention has now shifted to Bollywood, as the BDS movement gains traction in America and Europe.”
His comments came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a selfie on his Twitter account which showed him with multiple Bollywood figures, including legendary movie star Amitabh Bachchan. The picture was taken during an event called “Shalom Bollywood”, a high-profile outreach program sponsored by the Israeli government to improve its image in the region.
Progressive figures in media and film industries rebuked Bollywood for its embrace of the right-wing prime minister and his government, reminding them of his government’s abuses.
“You are a fascist, racist, child-murdering war criminal. Your place in history is with the despots and dictators,” Muslim British activist and director said in a tweet Friday in response to Netanyahu’s selfie tweet.
“These Bollywood actors, @SrBachchan @juniorbachchan @rajcheerfull @vivek_oberoi should be all be ashamed of themselves.” The controversial selfie included another notable Bollywood figure, Imtiaz Ali who directed the Bollywood film “Drive”, funded by the Israeli Ministry for Tourism, and filmed in Israel.
Gautam of the regional BDS arm expressed disappointment that Bollywood is falling for Israel’s “cultural propaganda” as the country loses ground in Hollywood where “more and more actors and industry leaders are coming out against Israel and subverting this perception” of it being “a free country that was democratic,” he told the Middle East Eye.
Israel and India have seen a warming in relations under the Modi government. He became the country's first prime minister to visit Israel in 2017. Tel Aviv also reached an arms deal with India worth US$630 million last year.
Several agreements are expected to be signed as part of Netanyahu's six-day visit to India where he is touring several cities around the country with his family.
The prime minister’s visit was also met with protests by Muslims in India's eastern city Kolkata Thursday, rejecting the way their government is happily welcoming him.
"We oppose the way in which Israeli Prime Minister was given a grand welcome in our country," Kamaru Jaman, president of the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, told Reuters. "We demand that we should not have any relations with the Israeli President or the Prime Minister. Whatever relations were there relating to business purpose should also be ended."