By Jerome A. Cohen
Here is a very useful update on the complex Israel-China relationship, What’s Behind Israel’s Growing Ties With China?. It makes me recall the period 1979-81 when, long before the establishment of diplomatic relations between them, Israel was already secretly providing arms to China. Many of us who then inhabited the Peking Hotel knew what the lonely Israeli arms merchant, Shaul Eisenberg, who so often ate alone in the hotel restaurant, was up to.
I was told at the time that Israel had enacted a special law exempting Eisenberg (or his company) from income tax on his China profits. His cooperation with Beijing undoubtedly laid the groundwork for gradually increasing Israeli-PRC contacts that led to the preparation for diplomatic relations. My awareness of this process crystallized when in the early ‘80s Peking University asked me to find it a Hebrew teacher and the money to support the teacher. Most of the small group of first students ended up working for Xinhua in Israel or in other relevant pursuits of the Israeli-PRC normalization (Xinhua is the New China News Agency, often used as a forerunner of formal diplomatic relations).