Floating Voter / No Red Carpet for Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama of Tibet arrived yesterday for his fourth visit in Israel.

Unlike his two previous visits, he will not be meeting Israeli officials this time. The papers reported that Avishay Braverman is the only one with whom he will meet, but Braverman is not a minister, and it is doubtful if he will be.

It was also reported that the government of China was very annoyed. The Chinese are wasting their anger this time: the visit is a private one anyway, and all the ministers are keeping their distance from the exiled leader.

In days gone by, Israel Radio used to air at dawn summaries of the daily newspapers' editorials. I was especially fond of this item, and used to listen with wonder to the ultra-Orthodox Hamodia warning China for its iniquities. I have no doubt a billion Chinese were also impressed, and from time to time felt fear gripping them, for some unknown reason. I knew what it was: Hamodia had issued a warning. Who wouldn't run for his life?

I have no idea if that item is still being broadcast and when, and whether Hamodia is still warning China, or if things have turned around and now China is warning Hamodia. In any case, China has warned Israel this week in no uncertain terms not to roll out the red carpet for the Dalai Lama, because China has a monopoly on red.

And yes, official Israel is panicking - after all, we know how to deal with repressive dictatorships, it's our specialty. How well we cooperated with South Africa in the dark days of Apartheid, Argentina in the days of the brown generals, and China of Tiananmen Square, with all those vital interests, talks, obligations.

We are more afraid of the Chinese than others are. Even the president of the United States has already met the Dalai Lama despite the protests, but none of Israel?s wimpy ministers will meet the man, who is regarded throughout the civilized world as a great fighter against violence and for peace.

I myself received a warning call from the Foreign Ministry when I was environment minister and later education minister − two other realms identified with the Dalai Lama. Those officials, who were afraid of their own shadow, threatened me with a sharp crisis and even the severing of relations with China, which cast a giant shadow.

I reconsidered, and decided to meet him after all. We met twice, talked, and I expanded my horizons.And what do you think happened after a single Israeli minister met the Dalai Lama? Surprise surprise − nothing at all. Some time later the president of China came to Israel, together with his education minister, and the Chinese and Israeli ministers signed an agreement between the two states.

As we well know, our ministers find it easy to be always afraid, even easier to be ashamed. How much harder it is to be just a human being and fix one's gaze on the enlightened side of the world.