Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld: China, Israel and the Jewish People
China, Israel and the Jewish People
March 28, 2012
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where he founded and directs the Center's Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism program.
Interview series: Dr. S. Wald of JPPPI, "They see the Jews as an old people with a long history and view Israel as its center. One often hears from Chinese that theirs and the Jewish civilization are the oldest surviving ones."
The writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the Boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America. He is the Chairman of the Board of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
China is largely uncharted territory for Israel and the Jewish people. Jews have lived in China since a remote past and there is proof of some Jews having lived or traveled there as much as one thousand years ago. Before the Second World War, there was a Jewish community of Russian refugees Harbin. Twenty thousand European Jews found refuge in Shanghai shortly before the war, fleeing Germany. They left China after the war.
At present, there are thousands of Jewish and Israeli businessmen in various Chinese cities, mainly Shanghai and Beijing.
“Until the early 20th century, the Chinese slate was virtually blank with regard to Jews. There are no holy books where the Jews are condemned for killing God’s son or rejecting Allah’s prophet. The Chinese word youtai (Jew) has no negative connotation. Besides the Hindu world, this is the only major civilization where the Jewish people can start from a neutral position.”
Dr. Shalom Salomon Wald worked with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris from 1964 to 2001. He joined the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (JPPPI) in Jerusalem at its founding in 2002. In 2004, he published a book titled China and the Jewish People: Old Civilizations in a New Era.
Wald observes: “How can we know what ‘the Chinese’ think about Israel and Jews? The country has 1.4 billion citizens and offers conflicting experiences. A large number of Chinese know that there is a state called Israel, Islele, in the Middle East.
"During the Second Intifada, Chinese Central Television , which is watched by hundreds of millions of people, sometimes showed Israel in a negative way. Last year, however, CCTV showed a whole series of movies about Jewish culture and history.
“In the cultural field, Amos Oz is currently the most popular Jewish or Israeli writer in China. His book A Tale of Love and Darkness is in its second edition in Chinese. The book is ranked as one of the ten most important translated into Chinese. Tens of Chinese newspapers reviewed it positively, saying they had learned things about Israel they hadn’t known before.
“There are Chinese intellectuals who have studied Israel and the Jewish people as well as Chinese policymakers who are interested in us. For the Chinese, Jews and Israel are the same. They see the Jews as an old people with a long history and view Israel as its center. One often hears from Chinese that theirs and the Jewish civilization are the oldest surviving ones.
"This expresses respect for the continuity of the Jewish people.
“Relations between the countries are increasing and continue to improve. Culture is one aspect. Trade and investment links are increasing fast. In 2011 Ehud Barak, the Minister of Defense was invited to visit China, while China’s Chief of Staff visited Israel – the first such visit, and the only one to a Middle Eastern country. Persistent rumors say that Prime Minister Netanyahu has also been invited to visit China.
“I would venture to say that a substantial portion of the Chinese political and intellectual elites have superficial positive feelings toward the Jewish people and Israel. This could change. The oil-rich Middle Eastern countries have huge sums to spend in China. Far more Chinese know the Arab world than Israel.
Those who will rule China twenty years from now are presently studying in elite universities. If someone teaches them about Judaism and Israel, this will be good for the Jewish people. Eventually, when some of these students are in important positions, they are likely to advise their country’s leaders on Jewish and Middle Eastern issues.
“Middle Eastern stability and Israel’s role in it are increasingly important for China. For the first time in history, China will directly influence the fate of the Jews and particularly Israel. Since this influence will grow very quickly, it is important to keep China’s attitude toward Israel well-informed and positive.
“Israel and the Jewish people should build bridges of friendship with China and develop a strategic concept on how to strengthen our links. A few Israeli NGOs are active in this field.
SIGNAL, for example, is organizing academic and other exchange visits and helps funding Israel Study Centers in Chinese Universities. The Jewish people are hampered by the fact that they are not a coherent unit. Major Jewish organizations should however, try to develop a coordinated policy toward China, and Israel should encourage such efforts and cooperate with them.”
Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)
Rob Coles (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)