China Again Comes Between Israel and America

As Israel looks poised to award yet another infrastructure project to a Chinese company, will relations with Washington sour?

By Ryan Jones | | Topics: China
China is the one topic on which Israel will find any real support in America. Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90

Relations with China is the one issue that could really drive a wedge between Israel and the United States. And Israel’s new government is about to face its first real test in this regard.

Some might believe that Iran is the issue most dividing Israel and America at present. But even if Washington signs what Israel sees as a bad nuclear deal with Tehran, it won’t ruin relations between the two allies.

One of the reasons for this is that Israel’s strong base of support among American Evangelical Christians agrees with Jerusalem that the White House’s approach to the Iran threat is all wrong.

But when it comes to China, that’s not the case.

Conservative Evangelical Christians are likely to be as upset by Israel-China relations as any other American. Jerusalem will find no substantial backing among any US constituency for its burgeoning ties with Beijing.


Between a rock and a hard place

Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid held sensitive talks on China with President Joe Biden and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on separate occasions last month. That this was not widely reported at the time was due to Israel’s desire to keep the matter quiet so as not to ruffle Beijing.

What’s now known is that Israel promised to keep the Biden White House well informed of any pending deals between the Jewish state and China. Whether or not this means Israel will wait for an American “green light” before moving forward on dealings with China remains to be seen.

The issue is likely to soon return to the foreground as the state-run company tasked with building Tel Aviv’s light rail system will reportedly award its tender in the coming weeks. Most of the companies competing for the multibillion-dollar deal are Chinese.

If Israel awards the tender to a Chinese company, as it has other major infrastructure projects in recent years, that could upset Washington.

On the other hand, if Israel starts rejecting Chinese bids over fear of angering the Americans, Beijing could cut crucial economic ties with the Jewish state.


Beware China

The issue of Chinese relations was one of the very few points of contention between former Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former US President Donald Trump.

Back in 2020, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Israel at the height of the first COVID-19 outbreak to warn Jerusalem against taking things too far in its fling with Beijing.

“The Chinese are not a reliable partner,” a member of Pompeo’s entourage told Israeli media at the time. “There is no such thing as a privately owned, independent company in China.”

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Chinese Zionism

Here’s an interesting bit of related trivia. Did you know that the “father” of modern China was a Zionist?

Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the pre-Communist era Chinese leader who’s still revered as the founder of the modern state, wrote a letter a century ago in which he called Zionism “one of the greatest movements of the present time.”

He went on to insist that “all lovers of democracy cannot help but support whole-heartedly and welcome with enthusiasm the movement to restore your wonderful and historic nation, which has contributed so much to the civilization of the world and which rightfully deserve an honorable place in the family of nations.”

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