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.