Is China Israel’s last, best hope?

"China is on track to become home to the largest Christian population in the world."

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attend the Taiji and Yoga event at the Temple of Heaven park in Beijing, China on May 15 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attend the Taiji and Yoga event at the Temple of Heaven park in Beijing, China on May 15
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This past semester about 150 students at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government participated in a student-organized trip called the “Palestine Trek.” The trip, led by Palestinian students at the school, was planned as a tour of the land’s “1948 borders.”
The organizers’ apparent goal was to expose participants to the Palestinian perspective on the conflict, if not persuade them of its moral righteousness. Of course, many of those who participated needed no convincing and were already hostile to Israel, while many others who may have begun the journey ambivalent, returned skeptical, if not distrusting, of the Jewish state.
Participants heard from a multitude of Palestinian speakers offering a range of views sympathetic to their side of the conflict. The usual anti-Israel arguments were on display. One participant said that they heard almost every day and from every speaker that Israel is an apartheid state. But there were also some less common arguments voiced: a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement speaker charged Israelis with “milking the Holocaust.”
The sole Israeli the students heard from was on the far Right – convenient for painting all Israelis as damnably hostile to Palestinians.
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It is not hard to imagine why so many students would return from such a trip with anti-Israel views. The views of students at the school – even before the trip – appeared to parallel the larger trend of millennial views toward Israel: increasing hostility. During last summer’s war in Gaza, a Pew Research Center poll showed a widening generational chasm in views on Israel: 29 percent of 18- to 29-yearolds blamed Israel more than Hamas versus 21% who believed the opposite. In comparison, Democrats blamed Hamas more 29% to 26% and liberal Democrats were split at 30%-30%. This was before Israel’s recent election, which hurt its world standing. In short, the young are turning against Israel and its narrative.
As my generation grows older, America’s historical support for Israel may flag. Most of the future electorate, far removed from the Holocaust, Israel’s founding, or the wars that nearly extinguished the nascent state, are likely to remain steady in their distrust of – or disgust with – the country as they grow older, especially if peace is not obtained. And as they assume the reins of leadership across society, in business and in government, official support for Israel is likely to wane.
Amplifying this trend and likely outcome is the fact that Hispanics, the fastest growing demographic in the US, lay even greater culpability – 35% – with Israel for last summer’s conflict.
Certainly, Israel will be able to count on the continued support of some Americans.
Evangelical Christians and devout Catholics have long supported the Jewish state. However, they will be vastly outnumbered and their electoral influence will diminish as young Americans increasingly turn away from religion.
So if America abandons Israel, will the Middle East’s sole democracy stand alone? Ironically, thanks to Christian proselytization Israel’s last best hope may become China.
China is on track to become home to the largest Christian population in the world.
There are already 100 million Christians in China – more than the number of Communist Party members – and the community is growing rapidly. Professor Fenggang Yang, a sociologist at Purdue University, estimates there will be 160 million Christians in China by 2025 and 247 million by 2030. Evangelical Christianity is spreading exponentially in China.
If their American brethren are any guide, Christian Chinese will look favorably upon Israel. It is well-documented that the Chinese already admire Jews. Books with titles like Talmud: The Greatest Jewish Bible for Making Money and Learn to Make Money with the Jews abound in Chinese bookstores.
Many of the Chinese Christians will become or already are members of the Chinese Communist Party. They will serve in Chinese government posts and view the world through a Christian lens. It is a lens that, among other things, may be sympathetic to Israel. Meanwhile, the Christian millions who are not in government may also indirectly influence the Chinese state to support the Jewish one.
Certainly, this would require a departure from China’s foreign policy since the rise of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. China has long pursued a pragmatic and national interest- or realpolitik-based foreign policy.
In contrast, the US has oscillated between pragmatism and idealism. Yet, a Chinese state with over 250 million evangelicals may be of much different character than what we have witnessed to date. It may no longer single-mindedly pursue all of its foreign policy objectives based on realpolitik alone. Instead, it too may be infused with a modicum of Christian impulse and Christian ethics. It is there where Israel may cultivate a new ally.
For now, however, Israel must do better making its case to the next generation of Americans.
The author is president of the Jewish Caucus at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he is studying for a masters in public policy. He is also pursuing an MBA at Harvard Business School.