Why Israel Is Shifting Eastward

Europe's stagnation, legacy of anti-Semitism, and constant condemnation of Israeli policies set it apart from East Asia.

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Japan, May 2014.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Japan, May 2014.Credit: AFP
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

Slowly but surely Israel is pivoting toward the East. Years ago that would have been a most unexpected development. After all, most of Israel’s population originated from Europe, and most of its leadership had its roots in Europe. For many years Israel might have been considered, for better or for worse, an outpost of Europe in the Middle East. Whether Europe loved Israel or hated Israel, Europe remained Israel’s closest connection to Western civilization. But a change is taking place. Our prime minister has visited China and Japan, and it is a fair bet that he will visit India in the near future. Who knows, Korea may even be next.

On reflection this is not totally unexpected. For many years the economic development of the countries in East Asia has been outpacing the economic development of Europe. Japan made giant strides in the years after World War II. South Korea followed suit. China has become the economic wonder of the twenty-first century. There are, as well, indications of accelerated economic development in India, the world’s largest democracy. It is natural that Israel’s economic relationship with these countries would begin to rival its relationships with the countries of Europe, a Europe which seems to be in permanent economic crisis and lagging behind the Asian tigers.

But that is not the only reason for this turn to the East by Israel. Europe is the graveyard of European Jewry. They were slaughtered in the killing fields of the Soviet territories, now Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, and Ukraine, that the German army occupied during Operation Barbarossa. And they were gassed in the industrialized killing installations established on Polish soil. Almost all of Europe was involved, directly or indirectly, in the murderous scheme to exterminate the Jewish people. The French and the Dutch shipped their Jews off by railroad to Auschwitz, knowing full well the meaning of that destination.

And the British, who for a while were the only ones to stand up to Nazi Germany, made sure that no Jews would be allowed to flee Europe and reach Palestine. The MacDonald White Paper of May 1939, issued by the defeatist Chamberlain government, officially closed the doors of Palestine to the Jews and the British Navy and the British secret service in the years before the war and throughout the war made sure that those who succeeded to make their way toward Palestine were intercepted. The Struma managed to leave Constanta, Romania in December 1941 with almost 800 refugees aboard, at a time when it was known that Romania, urged on by the Germans, was already actively engaged in exterminating its Jewish population. Nevertheless when the ship arrived at Istanbul, unable to continue its journey, the British government refused to grant the passengers entry permits to Palestine. The ship with its passengers was towed into the Black Sea where it was torpedoed, and all but one of its passengers perished. Hundreds of thousands could have been saved had the British government relented from this inhuman policy.

Despite the centuries of anti-Semitism that marked most European nations and the guilt borne by them for their actions during the Holocaust, Europe, in recent years through the machinery of the European Union, has waged a constant campaign of criticism and condemnation of the policies pursued by Israeli governments, going so far as to impose economic sanction against Israel.

Nothing of the sort has come Israel’s way from the Far East or India. Unlike Europe, China, Japan, and India have no history of anti-Semitism. Quite the contrary - they demonstrate admiration for the ancient Jewish civilization and Israeli achievements in science and technology, and are eager to expand cultural and economic relations with Israel.

The dramatic success of Shinzo Abe, the current Japanese Prime Minister, in rejuvenating the Japanese economy, and the landslide victory of Nurendra Modi in the recent Indian election, hold a promise of flourishing relations between Japan and India in the years to come. The already rapid growth in the relationship between Israel and China and the possibility of developing relations with the Republic of Korea, are clear indications that Israel is turning to the East and moving away from Europe and the sad European legacy.

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