Pompeo Visits Israel: China is likely to be on the agenda

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to land in Israel on Wednesday. His visit coincides with the swearing-in of a new Israeli government, breaking the country’s year-long political deadlock. The COVID-19 pandemic and moves towards annexing parts of the West Bank are likely to dominate Mr. Pompeo’s discussions with both Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. Yet also likely to be on the agenda is the thorny issue of US-China tensions and Israel’s position in relation to them.

The US is Israel’s closest strategic ally. The two countries share democratic values and a belief in free and fair trade within a rules-based international order. In the Middle East – Israel’s backyard – Jerusalem and Washington see eye to eye on many strategic and security issues. When it comes to dealing with China, however, the picture is less clear.

SIGNAL Note 71: Containing COVID-19: what the US & China can learn from Israel

COVID-19 has now spread to over 200 territories around the globe, infected 3,232,061 people, and claimed the lives of 228,504. Healthcare systems are being overwhelmed, and global supply chains have been severely disrupted. The sheer magnitude of this crisis beckons for countries to work together to contain the virus. Nevertheless, America and China have decided to play the blame game rather than uniting for the betterment of society. Chinese officials have taken to social media, promoting the narrative that the virus was spread by the American military, while President Trump has resorted to calling it the “China Virus.” Instead of joining forces to “flatten the curve,” both powers seem more inclined to use the crisis to advance their own political agendas. Tensions are escalating.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East: Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Hamas have remarkably managed to put their differences aside as they battle this new common enemy.

Comprehending China’s media: the case of Itzik HaSini

The American-based Epoch Times recently ran a Hebrew-language piece, supposedly exposing the affectionately named “Itzik HaSini” (“Itzik the Chinese”) as an employee of China’s state media. While presenting Itzik HaSini, whose name is Xi Shiu Chi, as a secretive tool through which Beijing seeks to ‘control world opinion,’ what the piece failed to take into account was that mainstream Israeli media has been largely upfront about Itzik HaSini’s true identity and for whom he works. Itzik HaSini is a young Chinese man, working for China Radio International, who, through his YouTube videos and almost impeccable Hebrew, has won the hearts of many Israelis by showing them what life is apparently like in China. From showcasing Chinese technology to drafting into the Israeli army, for his Israeli fans Xi and his videos serve as a captivating and entertaining window into a people and culture about which they know very little. Though written in Hebrew, the Epoch article tells us more about American attitudes than it does Israeli, underscoring the differences between how China is perceived in the US and Israel. Nevertheless, with Israel and China operating in very different cultural and political contexts, the article does highlight how critical it is for Israeli audiences to better comprehend the framework in which Chinese media operates.

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