Chinese People Shopping 248.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Stepping out of the airport in Harbin in northeast China, you are
greeted by a
giant castle made completely of ice. Thankfully, relations between the
Israel and the People's Republic of China are anything but cold, and
past week we've been doing our bit to warm them up a little more.
to the Chinese New Year, Harbin - the 10th-largest city in China, with
million people - hosts the International Ice and Snow Festival. Not far
this astonishing exhibition of winter art and sculpture is the synagogue
was once home to the largest Jewish community in the Far East. By the
some 60,000 Jews had made this their home, a new railway link from
the move possible - and once they did, they were received warmly and
hugely to the wider community. In marked contrast to their place of
anti-Semitism in Harbin was nonexistent.
IF ISRAEL is compiling a
countries that count, then China ought to be pretty near the top. A
powerhouse and the No. 1 exporter to many countries, it is rapidly
most important economy in the world. With its population numbering some
billion, it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and China's
will be essential in the debate regarding the growing Iranian threat.
traditions, culture and society can seem baffling. Yet as our group of
Israelis interacts with different Chinese audiences, the commonalities
us become apparent. Traditional advocacy with its Western- based nuances
not work here, but a different approach, based on opening people's minds
realities of Israel, has been extraordinarily effective.
The Chinese view of
Israelis is pretty two- dimensional; they are impressed by what they
an intelligent nation, yet they are bemused by the continuing conflict
region. As in all societies where Jews are scarce and knowledge of
limited, stereotypes fill the void. Public diplomacy, therefore, has an
important role to play.
OUR DELEGATION in China is here to add color to this
impression of the Jewish state. We are doing so via a series of lectures
materials and by bringing a photo exhibition displaying the diversity of
society, culture and landscapes. Like the many successes of Israel we
showcasing, our presence here came from a simple idea. Understanding the
prominence of China, participants of the StandWithUs Israel Fellowship
successfully organized this public diplomacy offensive, which included
university lectures, academic partnerships and extensive interviews with
Chinese media. Jews have once again returned to Harbin, if only in the
This month will mark the 18th anniversary of diplomatic relations
between the People's Republic and the State of Israel. Following that is
beginning of the Chinese New Year of the Tiger, traditionally heralding a
turbulent and volatile time. Given the inaccurate and one- sided
Israel in many other parts of the world, finding new and innovative ways
reaffirm our links to China should be a diplomatic priority.The writer is Israel director of
StandWithUs, which provides Israel education through student
fellowships, speaker programs, conferences, written materials and
Internet resources. It has 12 offices around the world, including Los
Angeles, Israel and the UK.