The Israeli embassy in India has raised concerns about an event on the Israel-Palestine conflict that was held at OP Jindal Global University in Haryana on November 1.
On November 3, the Israeli ambassador to India Naor Gilon wrote a letter to the university’s Vice Chancellor C Raj Kumar, expressing his “concern and extreme disappointment” about a lecture delivered by writer and former Delhi University professor Achin Vanaik on the history of the conflict.
In the letter seen by Scroll, Gilon alleged that the lecture “delegitimised the state of Israel”.
Vanaik, however, told Scroll on Thursday that he had defined Israel “as a settler-colonial apartheid state”. “Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and B’tselem – a human rights group in Israel– are among various bodies and individuals that publicly declare Israel to be an apartheid state,” he said.
Vanaik added that it was not surprising that the embassy would try to prevent any serious criticism in the media and university spaces.
The embassy’s reaction came after videos of Vanaik’s lecture surfaced online, in which he drew parallels between Zionism and Hindutva nationalism. He questioned why one act of violence is labelled terrorism and others are not.
His lecture drew criticism on social media, with many accusing Vanaik of making anti-Hindu remarks. The talk was organised by 50 faculty members of various departments of the university. Following the uproar, Vanaik’s lecture at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, scheduled for November 7 was cancelled after a pro-Hindutva student group raised objections.
The controversy comes as Israel’s war on Gaza entered its seventh week, resulting in the deaths of at least 11,320 Palestinians, including 4,650 children and 3,145 women. Tel Aviv’s actions are in response to an attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7 in which 1,200 Israelis died.
In his letter, Gilon said that while he believes in the importance of free speech and has encouraged productive debate and diverse opinions, “this [November 1] event was completely out of the realm of both”.
The ambassador said that it was “especially disappointing” that the university organised the lecture given the fact that it is the only institute in South Asia that has an Israel Studies Centre and has worked in close partnership with the embassy in the past.
“We have had good prior cooperation and also planned future endeavours,” he said.
The letter also said that the “lack of accuracy presented in this event was startling” as the university has excellent researchers specialising on Israel.
It alleged that maps were used at the event to “alter reality” and that historical facts were replaced with “inane subjective narrative”.
“This was the complete opposite of what education and academic research should stand for,” the letter said.
Scroll has sent an email to OP Jindal Global University to seek their response to the letter. The story will be updated if and when the university replies.
The letter also pointed to a leaked email from professor Sameena Dalwai, a faculty member at the university, in which she expressed her disappointment at New Delhi’s response to the conflict in Gaza and blamed “Indian troll armies” for creating “fake news of Hamas atrocity”.
The ambassador said that the “unfounded and plainly false accusations” in the email were “hard to accept”.
A professor at the university told Scroll that Dalwai was responding to another faculty member who had warned that the talk might conflate Hamas and Palestinians since it asks listeners to keep histories in mind. The faculty member described Hamas as a “terror group”, citing the October 7 attacks.
The faculty member also defended Isreal Defence Minister Yoav Gallant using the words “human animals” while announcing the war on Gaza, claiming that it was spoken for Hamas and not Palestinians. Scroll has seen a copy of this email.