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.

SIGNAL Note 70: Coronavirus and the Paradox of Social Distancing

Until the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of “social distancing” likely never crossed your mind. But today, from Singapore to the UK, it has become part of everyday vernacular. Here in Israel, people have been encouraged by the government to keep their distance from others, avoid public gatherings and, if possible, work from home. The logic: if people are less mobile and limit interaction, the contagion has fewer opportunities to spread. The slower it spreads, the less likely it is to overwhelm the healthcare system. However, as more and more people practice self-quarantine and social distancing, another public health threat is poised to emerge: loneliness.

While scientists are scrambling to understand how the coronavirus works, psychologists and other medical professionals have long understood the toll that loneliness and isolation take on both body and mind. People that feel disconnected are more likely to develop depression, experience sleep problems and abuse substances. Loneliness has also been identified as a risk factor for physical ailments such as diabetes, autoimmune disorders, lupus, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. That depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy an estimated $1trillion annually, lends perspective to the magnitude of the problem. Loneliness is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease, comparable in scale to obesity and smoking.

The impact of the coronavirus in China: Implications for Israel

The coronavirus has so far infected more than 200,000 people and claimed almost 10,000 lives. Aside from the major challenge posed to public health systems across the world, it is already clear that China’s massive presence on the international stage and the interdependency of the global economy means the virus is likely to cause far-reaching economic and geopolitical consequences as it continues to spread, including here in Israel.

In an effort that has proven effective in containing the spread of the virus in China, factories and businesses have been shut down, and some 60 million people were confined to their homes in Hubei province alone. The city of Wuhan, where the virus originated, and Hubei province, in general, were effectively sealed off, in what has been described as the largest quarantine in human history. This dealt a major blow to productivity. In an attempt to stem the spread of the virus, many countries placed restrictions on movement to and from China, severely hampering the flow of trade. Economists predict that China’s economic growth could slow to as low as 4% in the first quarter of 2020, the slowest pace in over a decade.

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