Beijing’s courtship of Israel has been canny and effective
Last week I drove up to Haifa to see with my own eyes a sight that, for most Israelis, has yet to sink in: the country’s brand new port, our third, which is beautiful, automated, efficient, and operated by the same Chinese company that runs the megaport at Shanghai. The first full container ship dropped anchor the day after my visit. Chinese characters adorn the soaring ship-to-shore cranes, freshly painted red and white; Israeli workers man joysticks opposite computer arrays running Chinese software; and in the managerial offices sit Chinese executives. To get to the port, I paid a toll and drove through the Carmel Tunnels, which were dug a few years ago by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation. At a gas station on the way I bought a pineapple yogurt made by the iconic dairy-products giant Tnuva, founded as a cooperative by Labor Zionists and now controlled by Bright Food—263 Huashan Road, Jing’an District, Shanghai. China was far, far away, until suddenly it was right here.
The most prominent face of China in Israel belongs to a guy named Itzik. His real name is Xi Xiaoqi, and he’s a 35-year-old resident of Beijing, but here he’s known as Itzik ha-Sini, or “Chinese Itzik.” He gets recognized on the street. He stars in hundreds of internet videos about life in Israel from a Chinese perspective, and about life in China made accessible for Israelis. Some of these appear on his own YouTube channel, but sometimes he appears on Israeli outlets like Channel 12 or KAN 11, the public broadcaster, where journalists are delighted to have a Chinese figure—the first—who speaks perfect, slangy Hebrew and has an acute grasp of the Israeli audience. He’s impossible not to like.
A good introduction to the Itzik genre is the video where he lists his top 10 reasons for loving Israel, including malawah, Jewish holidays, and the Pride Parade in Tel Aviv. Or the one where he introduces his grandfather Xi Rennan, 87, an energetic veteran of the Korean War (on the side of the communist North, of course), gives him a Hebrew name (Ronen), and teaches him to sum up his philosophy with the Hebrew workaholic expression nanuach bakever, “We’ll rest in the grave.” In Itzik’s world, China is a great place, but one that can learn from us Israelis about openness, creativity, and fun. He has much respect for who we are and what we’ve accomplished. The “top 10” video actually includes only nine things, but he ends by saying, “It’s OK, these are Israelis, they’re good people, not small-minded—they won’t make a big deal about it.” He snaps his fingers. “That’s the 10th thing.”
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