Time to make friends with In­dia and China

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS -

The Span­ish Jewish poet Ye­huda Halevi, who lived in the 12th cen­tury, fa­mously said: “My heart is in the East, and I am at the ends of the West.” He was re­fer­ring to a deep-seated long­ing for Zion, but th­ese days the talk about the East is dom­i­nated by China and In­dia. The growth of th­ese two coun­tries — “Chin­dia” for short — is one of the great sto­ries of our time, a cen­tral fea­ture of the ram­pant march of glob­al­i­sa­tion. The rise of the Tiger and the Ele­phant has ob­vi­ous con­se­quences for the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal world or­der — but also for the Jewish world.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been the sole su­per­power. Its eco­nomic might, mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­ity and cul­tural reach have given it a hege­mony en­joyed by no other state.

Clearly the US dom­i­nance has suited the Jewish world. We have been re­as­sured by Amer­ica’s stead­fast sup­port for Is­rael, by the fact that whether a Repub­li­can or Demo­crat was in the White House, the strong bonds be­tween Amer­ica and Is­rael re­mained in­tact. In his new book The Much Too Promised Land, Mid­dle East com­men­ta­tor Aaron David Miller points out that no pres­i­den­tial can­di­date can run for of­fice with­out be­ing a friend of Is­rael. The US, too, has pro­vided a home for the lead­ing Jewish di­as­pora com­mu­nity. This is no ac­ci­dent.

When other coun­tries closed their minds and borders to Jewish im­mi­gra­tion, Amer­ica pro­vided a home where Jews could wor­ship freely and where their creative and in­tel­lec­tual con­tri­bu­tions flour­ished. Whilst the US is not about to drop off the map of geo-po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence and will con­tinue to be a dom­i­nant force in global af­fairs, the global bal­ance is cer­tainly shift­ing. The rise of Chin­dia has led many com­men­ta­tors to talk about a move from a uni-po­lar world to a multi-po­lar or­der. At the very least, th­ese coun­tries are set to be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant trad­ing and eco­nomic forces, and po­lit­i­cal play­ers too. There is much talk that the 21st cen­tury will be the Chi­nese cen­tury, and there is a grow­ing lit­er­a­ture on th­ese coun­tries, as Western­ers seek to in­crease their un­der­stand­ing.

The economies of China and In­dia are grow­ing at a rate that is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble in mod­ern West­ern terms. In 1980 China and In­dia each had only three per cent of global out­put, yet by 2003 they had a com­bined to­tal of 19 per cent; pro­jec­tions sug­gest that their share of global out­put will rise fur­ther to 19 per cent and eight per cent re­spec­tively by 2015.

With China’s man­u­fac­tur­ing out­put, it is grow­ing at an an­nual rate of ap­prox­i­mately nine per cent. Its econ­omy is ex­pected to over­take Amer­ica’s by 2020 as the largest in the world. In­dia’s growth has been spurred by its IT, soft­ware and ser­vices sec­tor. Once a coun­try which in­fa­mously strug­gled to ex­ceed three per cent growth — dis­parag­ingly la­belled the “Hindu rate of growth” — it has now ex­hib­ited an­nual growth rates of seven per cent or more.

To­gether th­ese coun­tries have one-third of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, with In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion (cur­rently 1.1 bil­lion) ex­pected to over­take China’s (1.3 bil­lion) be­fore 2030. Look­ing at th­ese fig­ures through a Jewish prism — with the cur­rent world­wide Jewish pop­u­la­tion of around 14 mil­lion — the sheer num­ber of peo­ple is hard to com­pre­hend. It was Mil­ton Him­mel­farb who once quipped that Jews num­ber less than “the sta­tis­ti­cal er­ror in the Chi­nese cen­sus”.

The growth rates of th­ese coun­tries rep­re­sent a shift­ing of the global eco­nomic or­der, which will have far-reach­ing po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions.

The award­ing of the Olympic Games to Bei­jing has been con­tro­ver­sial, given China’s hu­man-rights records to­wards Ti­bet, and more re­cently its pol­icy to­wards Su­dan. In­dia has been lob­by­ing for a seat on the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, and there are signs that it might get its way. The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has also been court­ing China and In­dia, with Gor­don Brown visit­ing both coun­tries in Jan­uary.

Of course, Is­rael al­ready has well es­tab­lished bi­lat­eral re­la­tions with China and In­dia. It has en­joyed of­fi­cial diplo­matic re­la­tions with Bei­jing since 1992, and they have been strength­ened by trade agree­ments, es­pe­cially in the tech­nol­ogy and defence in­dus­tries. Trade be­tween the two coun­tries has grown quickly, from $54 mil­lion in 1992 to $3.39 bil­lion in 2006. Sim­i­larly, bi­lat­eral trade be­tween In­dia and Is­rael has rapidly in­creased since the start of full diplo­matic re­la­tions in 1992.

But as much as Is­rael es­tab­lish­ing ties with th­ese coun­tries is to be wel­comed, it is not only na­tion states which need to de­velop re­la­tions with them, but also faith com­mu­ni­ties. The prece­dent for na­tion-faith bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ships is well-es­tab­lished in the other di­rec­tion, with Is­rael forg­ing links with the Angli­can Com­mu­nion, Catholic Church and other re­li­gious de­nom­i­na­tions.

The rise of Chin­dia is hap­pen­ing be­fore our eyes. It should not just be ob­served by Jewish lead­ers and the Jewish world. We need to get in the game. Of course, the start­ing point is not a blank sheet. The his­tory of Jews in th­ese coun­tries is a use­ful ref­er­ence point. Jews have been in In­dia for hun­dreds of years. They were ac­tive in trade and com­merce, mak­ing a sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tion to In­dian so­ci­ety. Lu­mi­nar­ies in­cluded Sir David Sas­soon, who do­nated to one of In­dia’s most fa­mous land­marks, the Gate­way of In­dia in Mumbai, and Gov­er­nor Jack Ja­cob, who served in the In­dian mil­i­tary in the war against Bangladesh in 1971. There is still a small but ac­tive com­mu­nity in Mumbai, al­though the com­mu­ni­ties in Cal­cutta and Cochin now num­ber fewer than 50 each.

China does not have a par­al­lel in­dige­nous Jewish com­mu­nity to speak of, but Jews have been in China for hun­dreds of years. The pres­ti­gious Mir Yeshiva moved there dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, while to­day both Bei­jing and Shang­hai con­tain hun­dreds of Jews, of­ten there on busi­ness or for aca­demic study. The renowned com­mu­nity in Hong Kong, num­ber­ing a few thou­sand, has had a pres­ence there for over 150 years, and has been sup­ple­mented by many Bri­tish, Amer­i­can and other di­as­pora Jews spend­ing short pe­ri­ods there, of­ten in in­ter­na­tional law, fi­nance or com­merce. Both China and In­dia there­fore have a small Jewish pres­ence, which is likely to grow in the busi­ness cities of Mumbai and Shang­hai, as well as re­main sig­nif­i­cant in the com­mer­cial hub of Hong Kong.

So what can we ac­tu­ally do? First, en­gage in a di­a­logue. Just as Jewish groups meet with Chris­tian and Mus­lim groups, we should look to do the same with Chi­nese and In­dian groups. The di­a­logue could be based on over­lap­ping val­ues, whether re­spect for the el­derly, pro­mo­tion of ed­u­ca­tion or such like. There is im­mense re­spect for Jewish val­ues and achieve­ments in some of the higher ech­e­lons of In­dian and Chi­nese so­ci­ety. Fur­ther­more both civil­i­sa­tions have no his­tory of an­tisemitism.

The di­a­logue could take place at all lev­els, from grass­roots meet­ings be­tween groups in cities like Lon­don to in­ter­na­tional sum­mitry. The In­dian Jewish As­so­ci­a­tion UK, es­tab­lished in 1996, al­ready forges close re­la­tions be­tween In­di­ans and Jews based on broad­en­ing so­cial and com­mu­nal ties. On the in­ter­na­tional stage, groups like the World Jewish Congress are also pur­su­ing this agenda, for ex­am­ple meet­ing with the Chi­nese Prime Min­is­ter in Novem­ber 2006 to dis­cuss in­ter­na­tional af­fairs. The fact that In­dia is, broadly speak­ing, a re­li­gious coun­try, whereas Com­mu­nist China is not, also en­hances the op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­ter-faith di­a­logue, par­tic­u­larly on Hindu-Jewish re­la­tions. The chief rab­binate of Is­rael has also made a con­certed ef­fort to en­gage with the Hindu com­mu­nity. Ear­lier this year a group of Rab­bis met some Hindu re­li­gious lead­ers for the sec­ond Jewish-Hindu lead­er­ship sum­mit in Jerusalem. Bri­tish groups should take note.

The sec­ond thing we can do is en­cour­age Jewish stud­ies at univer­si­ties in th­ese coun­tries, and em­bark on other ed­u­ca­tional and aca­demic link-ups. Both Chi­nese and In­dian cul­tures value ed­u­ca­tion, and ad­mire the Jewish pas­sion for learn­ing. Jewish aca­demics should be en­cour­aged to visit and give lec­tures, and Jewish stu­dents and young pro­fes­sion­als on short-term place­ments could be en­cour­aged to un­der­take some am­bas­sado­rial roles.

More chairs in Jewish stud­ies could be es­tab­lished at univer­si­ties in China and In­dia. New pro­grammes could be chan­nelled through fig­ures such as Pro­fes­sor Fu Youde (di­rec­tor of Shan­dong Univer­sity’s Cen­tre for Ju­daic and In­ter­re­li­gious Stud­ies) and Pro­fes­sor Xu Xin (of the In­sti­tute of Jewish Stud­ies at Nan­jing Univer­sity), as well as a num­ber of philosemitic pro­fes­sors at In­dian univer­si­ties.

Third, along­side the eco­nomic boom, both China and In­dia suf­fer from ter­ri­ble poverty. No­bel lau­re­ate econ­o­mist Amartya Sen has said that “the dan­ger of In­dia mov­ing in the di­rec­tion of be­ing half Cal­i­for­nia and half sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa is a real one”. An es­ti­mated 100 mil­lion peo­ple in China live be­low the poverty line, whilst in In­dia the fig­ure is closer to 350 mil­lion. Vis­i­tors to ei­ther coun­try can be shocked by the scale of hu­man suf­fer­ing, ma­te­rial de­pri­va­tion and hunger. Mind­ful of the Jewish in­junc­tion of tikkun olam — fix­ing the world — we should do what we can to as­sist with poverty-re­duc­tion pro­grammes. Bri­tish char­i­ties such as Tezedek and World Jewish Re­lief are al­ready ac­tive in this area, help­ing both the Jewish and non-Jewish poor around the world, but so much more could be done.

Fourth, “the Jew in the pew” can go and see th­ese coun­tries, visit­ing the Jewish com­mu­ni­ties where they ex­ist. They will find al­ready there an eclec­tic mix of their brethren, from the ar­che­typal Amer­i­can busi­ness­man and the Bri­tish pro­fes­sor, to the Is­raeli stu­dent, al­ready in th­ese coun­tries. There is an in­creas­ing range of Jewish tours, some of them kosher, or­gan­is­ing vis­its to China and In­dia. Whilst we Jews only have a small pres­ence in th­ese coun­tries, it is im­por­tant that some of the busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal elite there know a lit­tle about Jews, our his­tory and tra­di­tions — and that we know them.

Th­ese bridges be­tween the Jewish world and Chin­dia can be fa­cil­i­tated by di­as­pora Jews who al­ready have well-es­tab­lished ties in the East, from the lawyer who spent a num­ber of years in the Hong King of­fice to the busi­ness­man who trav­els pe­ri­od­i­cally to China to visit a man­u­fac­tur­ing plant, to the IT whiz who vis­its Mumbai for work. Some in­ter­na­tional Jewish bod­ies such as the World Jewish Congress have al­ready in­sti­gated en­gage­ment in this area, hold­ing meet­ings with Chi­nese gov­ern­ment as long ago as 1989. The Jerusalem-based think-tank, the Jewish Peo­ple Plan­ning Pol­icy In­sti­tute, is run­ning a project fo­cus­ing on Jewish re­la­tions with emerg­ing su­per­pow­ers.

Of course, there are some who will point to the dif­fi­culty of a dif­fuse global re­li­gious peo­ple es­tab­lish­ing re­la­tions with a na­tion-state and its peo­ple. Oth­ers will point to the lin­guis­tic and cul­tural dif­fer­ences be­tween the two sides, not in­signif­i­cant when one con­trasts China’s one-child-per-fam­ily pol­icy with the Charedi birthrate, or the am­biva­lent at­ti­tude of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to­wards re­li­gion in gen­eral. A third cri­tique rea­sons that re­la­tions with other emerg­ing economies such as Brazil, Mex­ico and Rus­sia are equally valid and im­por­tant.

But none of this de­tracts from the fun­da­men­tal im­por­tance of seek­ing to en­hance re­la­tions be­tween world Jewry and Chin­dia.

This will not hap­pen overnight, but it will also not hap­pen with­out a push from those who work inside the Jewish in­sti­tu­tional in­fra­struc­ture. There is a shift­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity, to which Bri­tish Jewry and its sis­ter com­mu­ni­ties through­out the world must re­spond. Zaki Cooper is the Di­rec­tor of Busi­ness for New Europe, a Trustee of the Coun­cil of Chris­tians and Jews and a con­sul­tant to the Cam­bridge in­ter-faith pro­gramme

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