Israel’s founding fathers, particularly its first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, understood the future importance of Asia and welcomed the freedom struggles of India and China already in the 1930’s, long before Israel was born. He repeated such statements in the 1950s and appealed to the Jewish people to seek contact with Asia’s great civilizations. He also predicted that India and China would become the great powers of the future. It is significant that Israel’s early leaders never gave priority to one of the two countries over the other. They mentioned India and China in the same breath. This would remain the approach of Israeli diplomats throughout the decades when both countries rejected formal relations with Israel.
Israel pursued every door to one country or the other, wherever it could find one. As soon as Israel was established in May 1948 it sent messages to India, directly and by intermediaries, asking Delhi for diplomatic relations and friendship. As there was no reply, international and American Jewish organizations maintained regular contact with India and lobbied for normalization of relations with Israel. India became independent in 1947, one year before Israel. The People’s Republic of China followed one year after Israel, in October 1949. Three months later, in January 1950 the Government of Israel under Prime Minister Ben-Gurion officially recognized the PRC. Israel was the first country in the Middle East and one of the first in the world to recognize China. For Israel this was an act of wisdom but also of courage. Israel then was very poor with its barely one million inhabitants constantly under threat from its neighbors. It depended on American food aid. Yet an examination of Israel’s government records preceding the January 1950 decision shows that the Israeli cabinet did not take United States hostility to the PRC into consideration. It decided independently and in Israel’s and China’s best interest. To this day, the Israeli government seeks the friendship of both countries without taking sides. The Israeli public respects and enjoys both cultures and growing numbers are travelling to both China and India.