Caught between Israel's occupation of Lebanon and India's increasingly strident reaction to it, members of the minuscule but durable Jewish community here are keeping a low profile in the hope that the storm will pass over them as others have.
Numbering only about 8,000 in a country whose population is approaching 800 million, Indian Jews are used to being buffeted by official pronouncements of a government that has recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization and that has no formal diplomatic or trade relations with Israel.
However, the recent expulsion of the Israeli consul in Bombay for publicly criticizing India's Middle East policy, and the continued threat that the consulate -- the only link of Indian Jews' to Israel -- will be closed, has increased nervousness here and in other pockets of Jewry in India.
"If we were 8 million, it would be a different matter. We are emotionally and intellectually linked to Israel, but we are also totally loyal to India. There is no point in making statements that go against the government," Ezra Kolet, president of the Council of Indian Jewry, said in an interview.
In Bombay, Sam Abraham, secretary of the Central Jewish Board of India, said many Indian Jews were critical of the statements made in a newspaper interview by the Israeli consul, Yousef Hasseen, who was declared persona non grata and given 48 hours to leave India in July.
In an interview with Bombay's Sunday Observer, Hasseen charged that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's government was anti-Israel only because of a fear that Iraq might stop supplying oil and Saudi Arabia might stop importing Indian labor. "You are competing with Pakistan to impress the Arabs," he was quoted as saying.
The Indian reaction was swift, with the Times of India editorially condemning "the vile and vicious conduct of the Israeli consul," and the government announcing that it was studying the closure of the consulate.
"For 2,000 years we have lived in peace and harmony," Abraham said. "What Hasseen said might jeopardize our position here." Another Bombay Jew noted that diplomats from other countries have been expelled for allegedly interfering in Indian internal affairs, but their consulates were not closed. They expressed the hope that the Israeli office would remain in Bombay.
Jews in India have scarcely experienced anti-Semitism or discrimination during the centuries they have lived amid a dense concentration of Moslems.
There is uncertainty over when the first Jews came to India, although there is evidence of Jews having settled in the west coast region that now is Maharashtra State in the 10th century, and some historians say the first Jews arrived after the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman legions in A.D. 76. Jews were encountered by Marco Polo in Malabar in 1293, and the Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, wrote of Indian Jews in 1199, saying, "The Jews of India know nothing of the Torah and of the laws nothing, save the Sabbath and circumcision."
However, Maimonides, who never visited India and likely got his information from Jewish merchants who traded in India, probably was wrong, because there is evidence that Malabar Jews never lost touch with Jewish rites.
Indian Jews fall into three main groups: Marathi-speaking Jews who call themselves Bene-Israel (Children of Israel); Cochin Jews, who originally settled in Malabar and took refuge in Cochin in the 15th century when Portuguese attacked during the Inquisition, and the "Bagdadis," or 19th century traders who emigrated from Iraq, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan -- some of whom made fortunes in Calcutta and Bombay.
The Bene-Israel Jews believe their ancestors came to the Konkan Coast about 175 B.C., fleeing the Galilee, where the Greek conquerer Antiochus Epiphanes was pursuing the remnants of Israel's 10 lost tribes. Numbering 20,000 in 1951, they have dwindled to about 5,500, mainly because of emigration to Israel, the United States and Britain.
The Cochin Jews, whose strength reached 2,500 at Indian independence, have dropped to only 60 now, but they retain a marked influence in local affairs.
The Bagdadi Jews of Calcutta and Bombay have dropped from 5,000 in 1951 to only 250 now. New Delhi has only about 50 Jews, although it has an active synagogue and most Indian Jewish organizations are based here.
In contrast, there are about 30,000 Indian Jews living in Israel.
Kolet, who has three children in Israel, said he has become philosophical about the Indian government's hard-line stance on Israel, which has included the shipment of medicine and other aid to the PLO.
"India has to be more Moslem than the Moslems on the Palestinian issue. It's a tradition that goes back to Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. But Mrs. Gandhi is not as against Israel as her pronouncements indicate. Politicians often say one thing and feel another," he said.
Factors influencing the government's hard-line position, he said, include a reluctance to risk heating up the dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, an 11 percent Moslem population in India, oil purchases from the Arab world and a desire to stay in the mainstream of the Nonaligned Movement.
A self-described "revisionist Zionist," Kolet defended Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon's moves in Lebanon, saying, "When you are dealing with terrorists, you have to wipe them out. They said all the terrorists had left Beirut, but they are still there."
However, like other Jews interviewed, Kolet admitted that he could not afford to make such statements publicly in India.
A retired Finance Ministry official, Kolet said he often visits Foreign Ministry officials to develop a "better understanding" toward Israel, but he conceded that he treads lightly on the Palestinian issue.
"We have been here 2,000 years, and we have been treated very well. The question of who is right and who is wrong is sometimes better left alone," he said.