Opinion: By exploiting ‘Baby Moshe’ as a mascot, India and Israel betray poor moral sense

There has been little critical comment about a boy being placed in a situation in which he does not understand the importance of all he is being made to say.

The Israeli prime minister’s official visit to India commenced this week with Benjamin Netanyahu arriving in Delhi and 11-year old Moshe Holtzberg in Mumbai. “Baby Moshe” is the boy who lost his parents in the terrorist attack in Mumbai nine years ago and was rescued by his Indian nanny.

As the Delhi media followed Netanyahu around, so the Mumbai media followed 11-year old Moshe around.

It has to be a new low in international diplomacy when nations think nothing of exploiting a child and his personal tragedy for political ends. It says much about the political morality of national leaders who treat a child as the mascot of their relationship.

Moshe Holtzberg’s trip to Mumbai and the site of his parent’s violent deaths as an adjunct to Netanyahu’s official visit to India was announced when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel earlier this year.

During that visit, 11-year old Moshe Holtzberg was trotted out by the Israeli government to meet Modi. Moshe, flanked by Modi and Netanyahu, read haltingly from a written script about the good works of the orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch sect of which his extended family are committed members and of his desire to return as head of the Chabad House in Mumbai.

He went on, still reading from the script: “I want to ask you something from all my heart, please continue to love me forever.” After stumbling over more words about India and Israel he said, “Dear Mr Modi I love you and the people of India.”

Unsettling performance

There is something more than a little unsettling listening to an 11-year old read words he has not written. There is something shocking hearing him read needy, manipulative words that express emotions he cannot possibly feel. That the adults around him only laughed and applauded compounds the tragic absence of his parents in his life.

There have been discussions on social media in Israel on the Chabad-Lubavitch sect’s manipulation of Moshe Holtzberg to promote their work. In the speech that young Moshe read out during Modi’s visit to Jerusalem, it was clear that his extended family is not above using the little boy to promote their religious activities. In Mumbai, the family, psychologist reportedly in tow, appear to think nothing of subjecting an 11 year-old to the public gaze and turning what must be an emotionally confusing journey for a child into a public performance.

What is even more disturbing is how little critical comment there has been about a politics that uses a little boy, not old enough to understand the importace of all he is being made to do and say. The media, for the most, has been thought-free. How else would you get a headline like this one: “The Little Moshe excited to see Nariman House nine years after 26/11.” As for media audiences, it seems a combination of vicariousness and idle curiosity have dulled their humanity.

Narendra Modi flanked by Benjamin Netanyahu meet with Moshe Holtzberg in July at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Credit: PTI.
Narendra Modi flanked by Benjamin Netanyahu meet with Moshe Holtzberg in July at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Credit: PTI.
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Decoding the symbolic threads and badges of one of India’s oldest cavalry units

The untold story of The President’s Bodyguard.

The national emblem of India; an open parachute and crossed lances – this triad of symbols representing the nation, excellence in training and valor respectively are held together by an elite title in the Indian army – The President’s Bodyguard (PBG).

The PBG badge is worn by one of the oldest cavalry units in the India army. In 1773, Governor Warren Hastings, former Governor General of India, handpicked 50 troopers. Before independence, this unit was referred to by many titles including Troops of Horse Guards and Governor General’s Body Guards (GGBG). In 1950, the unit was named The President’s Bodyguard and can be seen embroidered in the curved maroon shoulder titles on their current uniforms.

The President’s Bodyguard’s uniform adorns itself with proud colours and symbols of its 245 year-old-legacy. Dating back to 1980, the ceremonial uniform consists of a bright red long coat with gold girdles and white breeches, a blue and gold ceremonial turban with a distinctive fan and Napoleon Boots with spurs. Each member of the mounted unit carries a special 3-meter-long bamboo cavalry lance, decorated by a red and white pennant. A sheathed cavalry sabre is carried in in the side of the saddle of each trooper.

While common perception is that the PBG mainly have ceremonial duties such as that of being the President’s escort during Republic Day parade, the fact is that the members of the PBG are highly trained. Handpicked by the President’s Secretariat from mainstream armored regiments, the unit assigns a task force regularly for Siachen and UN peace keeping operations. Moreover, the cavalry members are trained combat parachutists – thus decorating the PBG uniform with a scarlet Para Wings badge that signifies that these troopers are a part of the airborne battalion of the India Army.

Since their foundation, the President’s Guard has won many battle honors. In 1811, they won their first battle honor ‘Java’. In 1824, they sailed over Kalla Pani for the first Burmese War and earned the second battle honour ‘Ava’. The battle of Maharajapore in 1843 won them their third battle honor. Consequently, the PBG fought in the main battles of the First Sikh War and earned four battle honours. Post-independence, the PBG served the country in the 1962 Indo-China war and the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

The PBG, one of the senior most regiments of the Indian Army, is a unique unit. While the uniform is befitting of its traditional and ceremonial role, the badges that augment those threads, tell the story of its impressive history and victories.

How have they managed to maintain their customs for more than 2 centuries? A National Geographic exclusive captures the PBG’s untold story. The documentary series showcases the discipline that goes into making the ceremonial protectors of the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces.


The National Geographic exclusive is a landmark in television and is being celebrated by the #untoldstory contest. The contest will give 5 lucky winners an exclusive pass to the pre-screening of the documentary with the Hon’ble President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. You can also nominate someone you think deserves to be a part of the screening. Follow #UntoldStory on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to participate.

This article was produced by Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic and not by the Scroll editorial team.