Hebrew-speaking Chinese reporter sways Israeli ‘hearts and minds’

In an opinion piece on the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, an Israeli academic warns that Israelis respond a little too well to Hebrew speaking Chinese media stars.

A man wears a mask as he walks past a mural showing a modified image of the Chinese Communist Party emblem in Shanghai, China after the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, January 28, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/ALY SONG)
A man wears a mask as he walks past a mural showing a modified image of the Chinese Communist Party emblem in Shanghai, China after the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, January 28, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALY SONG)
Hebrew is not spoken by a great many people around the world. As a result, Israelis tend to respond extremely well to non-Jews who master Hebrew or other Jewish languages. Examples include former sports broadcaster Zouheir Bahloul, a Muslim-Arab who worked for the state radio; Tsuguya Sasaki, a Japanese Yiddish activist; and plenty of stories about how young Catholic Poles are eager to learn both Hebrew and Yiddish to connect to the legacy of Jewish people that once lived in that country.  
This is partly why Itzik HaSini, which means Chinese Itzik, a persona created by Chinese reporter Xi Xiaoqi, is so much liked by Israeli reporters.
Employed by the Chinese Radio Hebrew station, Xiaoqi quickly became that “go to” person for all things Chinese, alongside established Israeli experts, in matters concerning the Middle Kingdom. This includes the current Coronavirus
epidemic, about which he is giving many Hebrew interviews from China to various Israeli television stations.
However, writing for the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies [BESA] Roie Yellinek warns the readers that while there is nothing wrong with turning to a Hebrew speaking Chinese person for insights about China, it is still a Communist country. Rather than permitting the persona of Chinese Itzik to voice the official views of the Chinese state, he asks, why don’t reporters ask him better questions?
The writer is not bothered by the work Xiaoqi is doing - it is after all the purpose of Chinese Radio airing in other languages to present a positive image of China to the world. What he is bothered by is Israeli media repeating his statements without any attempt to seek a counter-opinion.
Chinese state representatives are instructed to compare China to the country they seek to influence and to divert attention from the questions they are asked to other matters. This is why in a recent interview with the newspaper Makor Rishon, Xiaoqi claimed that China is forced to create positive media to combat negative images it has, like Israel created Hasbara, a form of positive media to fight against anti-Israeli opinions and online hatred against the Jewish people.
If China can be slammed for its treatment of the people of Tibet, he suggests, then Israel can also be slammed for its treatment of Palestinians.
The reporter could have pointed out that the two situations are very different. For example, China is not a minority country  in a Tibetan-dominated part of the world, yet he went on to ask other questions.
Yellinek claims that this is a failure of this reporter and others. When asked about freedom of speech in China, Xiaoqi says that in Israeli culture, one can shout in the streets that they wish to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu replaced, but Chinese culture is different. Once again the reporter does not produce examples of Chinese dissidents such as cartoonist Jian Yefei, the poet Liao Yiwu, or 2010 Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo, to suggest Chinese culture is not a one-size-fits-all model.
A final example of this is how Xiaoqi presents Israeli and Chinese cultures as similar in their preference for things that work, tachles in Hebrew, to philosophical discussions. He points out an expression by Deng Xiaoping.
Known as the leader who stepped in after the death of Mao Zedong, Xiaoping said in 1962 that “no matter whether it is a yellow cat or a black cat, whatever method works… we should use that method.” The statement was made in relation to agriculture production.
In the context of Chinese history, Xiaoping was embracing measurable things as a way to break away from the personality cult and ideological purges of Mao’s era. If the cat keeps the mice at bay, he seemed to suggest, it doesn’t matter what the cat happens to believe in when he’s not working.
Yet, when faced with the recent news concerning the fate of the Muslim minority in China, one can wonder if this message of relative tolerance is still being held in the Middle Kingdom.