The Miss Universe pageant, Bollywood and a Zebra crossing
Israel mourns the death of India's top-general Bipin Rawat.
On Sunday, the Miss Universe Pageant will take place in the port city of Eilat in Israel. The pageant has already created a stir because of a call to boycott the event over Israeli’s continued occupation and apartheid policies towards Palestinians.
A majority of these calls have fallen on deaf ears - and predictably so - it’s not as if the Miss Universe pageant is not a colonial enterprise of its own (in many ways its the perfect “Israeli event” - but that’s a different discussion)
However, the contestants from Malaysia and Indonesia pulled out, while South Africa’s Lalela Mswane decided to go ahead despite multiple attempts to convince her otherwise.
“If I had not come to Israel to compete in the Miss Universe pageant, I think I would have regretted it for the rest of my life,” told The Jerusalem Post. “My soul would not have been at peace if I had skipped it.”
I think when Mswane says “soul”, she means contractual obligations.
Nonetheless, her decision has been flaunted by Israeli media as well as Zionists back in South Africa as some sort of moral victory against ‘hate’ (a typical Israeli-talking point).
“There have been arguments that you shouldn’t politicize a beauty pageant,” Ottilia Maunganidze, of the Institute for Security Studies, told Christian Science Monitor.
“But the very act of hosting it in Israel is an act of politicization. For many people, it legitimizes what Israel is doing in Palestine. Or at the very least, it says, let life go on.”
And 600 million viewers across 172 countries are supposedly going to watch the show.
Little wonder then, that some have resorted to calling Mswane “Miss Apartheid”.
The attention on Mswane has meant that the egregious acts of other contestants or former contestants have been fallen under the radar. Some days ago, pageants were seen dressed in traditional Palestinian dresses and stuffing vine leaves, claiming to be experiencing Israeli culture.
Then there is former Miss India (2015) and now Bollywood actress Urvashi Rautela, currently in Israel as a judge at this year’s pageant. Her entire journey, from Mumbai to Jerusalem has been followed and glamorized by the Indian media.
“MISS UNIVERSE 2021 🇮🇱 Off to ISRAEL I LOVE YOU 🛫🛬🛩 Israel is our most trusted partner in the world,” she writes to her 43 million followers on Instagram.
Later, in Jerusalem, she posts the image below with the caption:
“#MissUniverse2021 here i come 🙌🏻🌹
While praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem”
In a highly publicized stunt, Rautela then met with former Israeli PM Netanyahu on Friday. She taught him a few Hindi words and then gifted him a copy of the Bhagavad Gita.
Alongside her post about the meeting, she writes:
“My Bhagavad Gita: A gift is pure when it is given from the heart to the right person at the right time and at the right place, and when we expect nothing in return.”
Netanyahu had reportedly invited Rautela and her family for a private interaction that was choreographed to make a public statement.
Israel mourns death of Indian army general
The death of Bipin Rawat, India’s top army General, who died in a helicopter crash last Wednesday, prompted a flurry of tributes from government and defence officials around the world.
But Israeli officials took it a whole other level.
Tributes and messages of support came from every level and branch of government, emphasizing the deep rapport between the Israeli armed forces and the Indian military.
Israel’s prime minister:
Israel’s former prime minister:
The Israeli government:
Israel’s armed forces:
Ministry of Economy:
Speaker of the Knesset:
Israel’s ambassador to India:
There are three take aways from this:
Rawat played an integral role in consolidating ties between India and Israel’s armed forces
Rawat was seen as a worthy counterpart for his views on counter-terrorism (See Stand with Kashmir for a list of his crimes)
India/Israel PR strategy involves exaggerating their friendship (to elevate ties plus erase the historical ambiguities that surrounded their relationship).
Odds and ends:
There have been several interactions and exchanges between Israeli and Indian diplomats over the past two weeks. For instance, Naor Gilon Israel’s new ambassador to Delhi has repeatedly been in the news, as he sets out to build on the gains of his predecessor and build his own legacy.
Moreover, the 14th India-Israeli Forum took place between Dec 8-9 in Tel Aviv. The Forum, hosted by Tel Aviv University together with the Ananta Aspen Centre and Confederation of Indian Industry, “is the major bilateral mechanism bringing together over 40 senior leaders from government, business and the academia, with the aim of deepening relations between the two countries and creating new avenues of cooperation,” the Economic Times wrote.
Speaking at the Forum, President Isaac Herzog said:
“We must expand the circle of Israelis and Indians who are working together” and noted there is “great potential to expand cooperation in a range of fields, including health, trade, defense, environment and combating the COVID-19 pandemic Herzog.
Major issues raised at the forum:
global and regional dynamics;
research and academic ties;
cooperation in the field of cyber security;
ways to expand and enhance economic and trade relations
And finally, a Zebra crossing
At the end of November, Israel gave three Zebras to Lucknow’s Zoo. Just two days later, one of the Zebras suffered a heart attack and died. According to one vet, the trauma of travel and change in habitat could have been partly responsible for the one-year-old Zebra’s death. Zebras are typically found in eastern/southern Africa; it is unclear how they got to the Israeli Zoo in the first place.
until next time,
UPDATE 16/12/21: A previous version of this newsletter said that newspaper reports had suggested the Zebras were exchanged for two Asiatic Lions from India. The Israeli Zoo, however, has clarified over email that the Zebras sent to India were part of a deal unrelated to the Asiatic Lions (these were part of an earlier donation to the Zoo).