China Gets a "Balanced" View of Israel
Peking University hosted the first major Israel studies seminar in China.
Israel studies programs are relatively new in China, where Hebrew language and Jewish cultural studies were around as early as the mid-1980s. PKU founded its Hebrew language program in 1985, mostly for national security reasons.
While the Chinese are known for respecting Jews for the very reason they were historically demonized in the West -- a fabled talent for money management – their Chinese impressions of Israel are more mixed.
The idea of Jewish professors lecturing on topics such as Zionism or Islamic radicalism to a room of Chinese academics raised concerns among school administrators and government officials.
China’s relationship to the Arab world played a part, too. China has become increasingly dependent on Middle Eastern oil, and countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran are relying more and more on Chinese markets.
The growing affinity was a major factor in the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation agreeing to fund the seminar.
“China is now concerned with understanding the Muslim world,” said Ilan Troen, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University and one of the seminar lecturers.
Eventually the government approved five days of programming at PKU, but attendance was by invitation only and the title for the seminar was carefully worded.
On the official red banner hanging at the front of the room, the Chinese title read, “Antagonistic coexistence and development: Seminar on the Israel issue.”
The addition of the word “issue,” absent from the English name, connotes positive and negative considerations to the study of Israel.
Many of the Chinese Islamic and Persian scholars who attended the seminar said they were impressed by the efforts to present balanced views on Israel, perhaps indicating their prior concerns about bias from the all-Jewish cast of lecturers from abroad.
Seth Garz, the seminar’s project adviser, called it an “accidental strategy” to select a more liberal-leaning group of American and Israeli academics.
“There are lots of Zionist ideas,” he said. “Zionism is about Jews taking responsibility for their own history, their own future, their own fate.” Full Story