Aside from avoiding outrageous gaffes, is there anything Israel can do to improve its miserable public relations? The BBC poll Alana cited this week, which once again showed Israel to be one of the world’s least-popular countries, actually points the way: Israel must start making a long-term investment in cultivating ties with Russia, China, and India.
Clearly, Jerusalem shouldn’t delude itself that it can change the hostile policies of these countries’ current governments. Indeed, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s effort to “reset” Israel’s relations with Moscow has failed spectacularly; Russia’s decision to sell cruise missiles to Syria is merely the latest example.
But as the unrest now sweeping the Arab world amply proves, authoritarian governments don’t last forever. Someday, the autocratic regimes in Russia and China will fall, and Israel must prepare for that day now by cultivating ties with the Russian and Chinese peoples — not merely because both countries are superpowers, but because, as the poll showed, they are actually Israel’s best prospects for future allies.
According to the poll, the countries with “the most positive view of Israel were the United States, Russia, Ghana, and China.” At first glance, that is shocking. One would expect Israel to draw the most support from other Western democracies, not the Russian and Chinese autocracies. But in reality, it’s eminently natural.
In Russia’s case, a million Russian-speakers have immigrated to Israel since 1991, one-seventh of Israel’s total population, and the strong network of cultural and interpersonal ties they have created provides a natural springboard on which to build. The two countries also share a common threat: Islamic terrorism.
In China’s case, both countries are products of ancient civilizations that place a strong emphasis on education and family ties. Indeed, Chinese curiosity about Judaism has been surging; it shouldn’t be hard to translate that into interest in Israel. Unfortunately, Israel has yet to reciprocate this interest; it remains focused almost exclusively on the West.
As for India, it was one of the few countries in the poll where positive views of Israel outweighed negative ones. The absolute numbers (21 percent positive, 18 percent negative) were lower than in Russia or China, but that merely means more Indians are still undecided.
Despite its lack of a Security Council seat, India is clearly one of the world’s up-and-coming powers by dint of sheer size. Like Israel, it faces a major security threat from Islamic terror; like Israel, it is proud of its dual identity as both an ancient civilization and a flourishing modern democracy. For historical reasons, it was traditionally in the pro-Arab camp, but that has begun changing in recent years. Yet while Israel has invested some effort in improving ties with India, it has not invested nearly enough.
The silver lining in the BBC poll is that despite Israel’s current grim international situation, it potentially has some powerful natural allies down the road. But to actualize this potential, Israel must begin making the necessary investments now. Come the Russian and Chinese revolutions, it will already be too late.