An American Jewish Committee expert on Asia said that because of increasing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Europe, “Asia is really a place we need to be turning to.”
Shira Loewenberg, speaking at two separate meetings of New Jersey’s AJC members May 18, described Israel’s warming trade and diplomatic relations with China and India.
“To ignore Asia’s rapid rise in the global arena economically, politically, and security-wise would be foolhardy,” said Loewenberg, who directs the AJC’s Asia-Pacific Institute. “We in the Jewish community would be foolish to ignore the mutual interests and concerns we have with Asia and we must build upon them to ensure the welfare of the Jewish people.”
She addressed 15 members of AJC’s Bergen County and Metro NJ regions at AJC’s headquarters in Millburn on May 18. She repeated her message a few hours later at a meeting of AJC’s Central NJ Region at a private home in Princeton.
China and India, comprising nearly one-third of the world’s population, have increasingly close ties with Israel at a time when both “are seeking an expanding foreign policy role in the world,” she said. “India has long engaged with Israel on a number of fronts including intelligence and defense and has under its new government become more open in its relationship with Israel.”
Trade between India and Israel grew to more than $5 billion in 2014, in addition to another $1 billion in Indian military purchases from Israel, making it Israel’s single largest defense customer.
“One might even say there is a very public love affair going on between India and Israel,” Loewenberg said.
India and other Asian countries are attracted to “Israeli ingenuity, its reputation as a ‘start-up nation,’ its cutting-edge developments in agriculture, water, biotechnology, high-tech innovation, cybersecurity, and defense,” she explained.
Since Israel and China established diplomatic relations in 1992, China has become Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia, to the tune of $5 billion in 2014.
“But it is not only economic factors that draw Jewish interests to Asia, and Asia to Jews and to Israel,” Loewenberg said. “Asia has virtually no history of anti-Semitism, and while attitudes toward Jews may be misguided by lack of knowledge and lack of contact with Jewish people, the attitudes tend to be philo-Semitic.”
In fact, she noted, “Jewish and Israeli studies departments are cropping up in many Chinese universities and there is a lot of cooperative research and development happening. In Israel there are numerous business delegations visiting on a weekly basis, mostly from China and India.”
Apart from those two powerhouses, AJC is heavily involved in relations with Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia.
Indonesia, the largest Islamic majority country in the world, is a particular challenge. It is a moderate Muslim country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, she said, “but they are very open to us on interfaith issues and I am very hopeful that in the future our relationship will develop.”
Asked how AJC’s work in Asian countries might be affected by their relationships with Arab nations, Loewenberg said, “there is still a hangover from the Arab boycott,” which was implemented by the Arab League after Israel became a state in 1948 and essentially ended with the Oslo Accords in the mid-1990s.
She said there were remnants of the boycott “most notably in Japan and South Korea, but in China and India things are going gangbusters in terms of economic cooperation with Israel.”