In a rare move, reportedly due to U.S. pressure, Israel joined a declaration this week criticizing China at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) over human-rights abuses against Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Israel’s new message to China seems to be: “If you do not stop voting against us at the U.N., we will start voting against you.”
While many are touting this as a new policy, Israeli Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations Gilad Erdan is believed to have sent China this very warning back in October 2020. Erdan reportedly asked his Chinese counterpart to stop supporting resolutions against Israel; otherwise, Israel will “retaliate” with its own condemnations.
So while the policy might not be new, Israel signing onto the condemnation is certainly a step in a new direction.
Roie Yellinek, a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies who specializes in the relationship between the Middle East and China, told JNS that “this is not a random decision and is not a surprise.”
According to Yellinek, the Israel-China relationship model is that both approaches can exist simultaneously. Israel can have a trade relationship with China while also voting against it at the United Nations, in the same fashion China has done for years.
And times have changed. The global trade war is heating up, and there is a new administration in the White House.
“It seems like the world is going back to a Cold War-type scenario with two major superpowers,” said Yellinek.
Israel must now sometimes choose between the United States and China, and Israel, of course, is closer to the United States.
“It is clear China votes against Israel, and the U.S. continuously ‘saves’ Israel on a variety of issues,” said Yellinek. “Therefore, Israel needs to side with the U.S. at the U.N.”
At the same time, Israel’s relationship with China is also improving; the trade relationship between the two countries is now decoupled, on both sides, from voting patterns at the United Nations.
‘China is just one voice in a crowd’
Tuvia Gering, an analyst at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, told JNS he believes it’s possible Israel’s policy has changed, but that “it is too early to tell.”
“Out of pragmatic considerations, Israel has learned to accept China’s contradictory policy over time,” he said. “China is well-aware that most (if not all) international condemnations are meaningless, except for their symbolic and reputational damages, and that any vote by China against Israel in the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) will be vetoed by the U.S. And, given that the international community is largely united on most issues concerning Israel, China is just one voice in a crowd. Meanwhile, in other, more private forums, China and Israel can enjoy each other’s company.”
Gering said that since the two countries established diplomatic relations 30 years ago, “there has been a tacit ‘agreement’ between them that Beijing can continue to criticize Israel on international platforms in order to curry favor with Muslim and Arab countries and portray itself as a responsible power, but relations should remain cooperative, if not friendly, on all other fronts.”
“Aside from that,” he added, “each side ‘minds its own business’ when it comes to dealing with the international probes on human rights and other sensitive topics.”
But recently, said Gering, “not only has China prompted the UNSC to hold three meetings against Israel, it has also given Chinese state-affiliated media, diplomats, CCP members and nationalist keyboard warriors free rein to lash out at Israel with anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist comments.”
Gering noted that China “has consistently failed to empathize with Israel, acknowledge Israel’s security concerns and the fact that it is threatened by cynical and murderous terror organizations armed by Iran, to which it has grown closer in recent years.”
In March, China and Iran signed a 25-year cooperation agreement on Saturday to strengthen their long-standing economic and political alliance.
According to Gering, those “missteps” by China against Israel “are not new.”
“The escalation which added the final straw was China’s decision to co-sponsor the UNHRC decision to establish an international commission of inquiry into Israel,” he said.
“Israel gave China a taste of its own medicine, but at the same time, a second chance to get back to the bilateral modus operandi,” added Gering. “And the irony is not lost on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which used the UNHRC to criticize China only a month after Beijing used the same body to condemn Israel.”
By joining Canada in the UNHRC, said Gering, “Israel is signaling to China: ‘The Israeli people will not put up with this any longer.’ ”
“While Israel values its relations with China, it, too, has red lines that should not be crossed,” he said. “Enough is enough.”