Panda Diplomacy Reaching Israel: China to Give Two to Haifa Zoo

Hopefully, that is. First the Chinese pandas chief has to be convinced that the Haifa zoo is bear-worthy.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Panda Diplomacy: Yes, please.
Panda Diplomacy: Yes, please.Credit: Reuters
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Following a diplomatic tradition going back millennia, China will be gifting Israel with two giant pandas, if it decides that the conditions in the Haifa zoo meet the animals' needs.

The delightful duo, which are actually a primitive species of bear, would be the latest to travel further to China's "Panda Diplomacy," a policy first employed used by the Empress Wu Zetian in the year 658 AD to charm the Japanese emperor Temmu.

The gift is not a casual one and China does not confer it on just anybody. It even has a specific person responsible for all the pandas in the world, who came to visit Haifa last week together with a gigantic 200-man strong business delegation, says the Haifa municipality public relations department. "I hope it works out," cooed a representative of the city.

Before handing over any bears, the Chinese want to make sure the Haifa zoo has the right conditions; can provide the right food – pandas almost exclusively a certain kind of bamboo, though they will not turn up their noses at the occasional meatball, egg or vegetable.

And yes, a delegation from the Haifa zoo has to first visit China to observe the black and white beauties in their mountainous home environment.

If that's a diplomatic assault, bring it on.Credit: Reuters

Not that there are many left. How many pandas remain in the wild is not certain, but recent estimates have been well under 5,000 and they are considered extremely endangered. Worst of all, they seem remarkably reluctant to breed for a species that - like most - depend on sex to survive.

At least Haifa is suitable in being situated on the slopes of Mount Carmel, at an elevation of about 550 meters. The endemic panda habitat in Chengdu is 350m to 5600m. It's rather hotter in Israel, though.

Presumably somebody will snarl about the adorable endowment, because people are people and they like to complain. Certainly China's gift of giant pandas to Taiwan in 2006 did not evoke the kind of response one might expect: oppositionist politician Huang Shi-cho of the Taiwan Solidarity Union party told the Los Angeles Times at the time that the darling duo were a latter-day "Trojan horse": "Pandas are cute, but they are meant to destroy Taiwan's psychological defenses."

Israel's psychological defenses are safe for the time being, until China decides the zoo is worthy of the priceless present. At which time, Israelis risk the danger of melting into helpless puddles of love. We're game. Beijing, bring it on.

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