Beijing’s Popular, Hebrew-Speaking PR Man in Israel Masks an Unequal Power Dynamic

Jan. 11 2022

In the coastal city of Haifa, a new, expanded, and fully modernized port has just opened—run by a Chinese company. The project raised eyebrows in Washington, tied to to long-running disagreements over the implications of Jerusalem’s economic relations with Beijing. Matti Friedman explores the issue by profiling a man known as “Chinese Itzik,” the Communist country’s Hebrew-speaking, media-savvy public-relations man in Israel:

In 2009, with China taking a greater interest in Israel, he was selected to run the Hebrew desk at China Radio International, a state outfit that might uncharitably be called a propaganda arm or, more generously, a showcase for China’s best self. (The Hebrew desk doesn’t actually broadcast radio, only videos.) The CRI website has a lot of upbeat content about, for example, the many plusses of life in Xinjiang. In Itzik’s rise from an obscure city to an elite college, then to studies abroad, and then to an official media job, it’s possible to sense the hand of the state identifying and promoting a gifted young person.

In one video (not available in the U.S.), he joins Golani Brigade soldiers in basic training, getting his shaggy hair buzzed by an army barber and struggling to clear a concrete wall in the obstacle course. He’s impressed! The tough guys from Golani play along, hands on their rifles. They look down on their funny guest from China and miss the real power dynamic—that the visitor represents a superpower that is rewiring the planet, while they represent a country whose entire population is the size of minor Chinese cities that even people in China probably haven’t heard of.

Itzik is worth watching not just because he’s entertaining and interesting, but because he’s a way to understand how China would like to talk to Israelis now. Someone there is watching us carefully and learning fast. It was only in 2014 that the local Chinese embassy hosted Liu Qibao, a member of the Politburo, for a speech at Tel Aviv University, and asked university administrators to instruct students to stand outside the building waving Chinese flags.

Read more at Tablet

More about: China, Haifa, Israel-China relations

Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria