The diamond, the cornerstone of relations between India and Israel

Posted 03 June, 2022

In his small office located at the Diamond Exchange near Tel Aviv, Pravin Kukadia proudly presents his collection of precious stones. Between the country of the diamond dealer, India, and his country of residence, Israel, diamonds are a diplomatic and economic link.

Delicately using pliers, the jeweler reveals a particularly rare pink stone, he says. From 1996, Pravin Kukadia made regular visits to Israel, as a buyer for the family business based in the city of Surat, in western India, a major center for cutting and polishing.

"At the time I bought rough diamonds, small and cheap," ironically the 56-year-old man who now specializes in the trade of large stones.

In 2003, he moved with his wife and two children to Israel to develop his business, the country being according to him "a major player in the diamond industry" and at the forefront of innovation in the field.

 

Special status

 

According to Pravin Kukadia, the Israeli Diamond Exchange is home to around 30 Indian companies, making India, the world's largest diamond polisher, the most represented foreign country.

Most Indian diamond families, about 80 people, live "in the same buildings" near the Stock Exchange in Ramat Gan, a city in the eastern suburbs of Tel Aviv, he told AFP. “We are one and the same family”.

According to an Israeli lawyer specializing in immigration procedures Joshua Pex, Indian diamond dealers enjoy a "special status" in Israel, aimed at promoting trade with India.

The Jewish state is also making it easier for Indian diamond dealers to obtain work permits, he said.

"Since 2018, they can work and live in Israel indefinitely and bring their families. They must renew their visas every three years compared to two for diamond dealers from other countries."

Another notable fact is that the huge trading center is home to the State Bank of India (SBI), the only foreign bank to be present there, alongside two Israeli banks.

"The diamond trade with India amounts to 1.5 billion dollars a year" (about 1.4 billion euros), the president of the Israeli Stock Exchange, Boaz Moldawsky, told AFP. “We export rough stones and we mainly import polished stones,” he says.

According to him, "diamonds were one of the first products of exchange between Israel and India in the early 1970s".

While India recognized Israel in 1950, it has traditionally expressed support for the creation of a Palestinian state and long refused to establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, until 1992.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz also began an official visit to India on Thursday as part of the 30th anniversary of relations between the two countries, pleading to strengthen their "security and economic" cooperation, by combining the know-how of Israeli technology with the "extraordinary production capacities" of India.

 

Free exchange

 

Since the coming to power in 2014 of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist formation of Narendra Modi who had already governed from 1998 to 2004, several large contracts have been concluded. Israel has mainly sold India military equipment, valued at around a billion dollars a year, Minister Gantz also refers to partnerships in advanced weapons and drones.

Relations in innovation and technology have grown closer, the Israel Innovation Authority told AFP.

An innovation fund worth 40 million dollars (37 million euros) has been created to encourage partnerships between the two countries which announced in October that a free trade agreement would be finalized in 2022.

In the "diamond tower", one of the three buildings that make up the stock market complex in Ramat Gan, Ranjeet Barmecha, another Indian diamond merchant, is delighted with this merger.

The 72-year-old from Rajasthan in northern India was one of the first to settle in Israel in 1979.

At the time, there was no diplomatic representation. "The (Indian) embassy was practically my home," he jokes. Since then, five of his six grandchildren have been born in Israel, said the Hebrew-speaking man, adding that he feels "at home" there.

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