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Jewish Political Studies Review 17:3-4 (Fall 2005)

Israel and Asia: Building Diplomatic Bridges

Freddy Eytan on
The Long Journey to Asia
by Moshe Yegar

Moshe Yegar is the most qualified Israeli diplomat to write about The Long Journey to Asia. He joined the foreign service in May 1956 and held various posts in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Throughout his multifaceted career, he was at the center of diplomatic activity. His vast experience provided him with a global vision of what Israel's foreign policy should be.

A graduate of the Hebrew University, Dr. Yegar has also devoted much time to research and writing. Among his most noted works are The Muslims of Burma (1972); Neutral Policy - Theory versus Practice: Swedish-Israeli Relations (1993); Czechoslovakia, Zionism, and Israel (1997); and Between Integration and Secession: The Muslim Communities of the Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma/ Myanmar (2002). Highly versatile, Yegar has also written seven storybooks for children.

His latest book, The Long Journey to Asia, is the culmination of his works so far and the most authoritative document ever written on Israeli diplomacy in that continent. Yegar covers all the diplomatic developments, clearly and reliably reconstructing their elements. He does not omit any incidents, even initiatives that were doomed to failure from the outset. With the help of documents and letters, he details the viewpoints of the people involved. His aim is to draw all the possible lessons.

Yegar's writing is informative and lucid, tinged with his own feelings about the various incidents - from enthusiasm to disappointment and even, sometimes, anger. At the same time, he upholds intellectual honesty. The book is supplemented with erudite notes and a long list of sources, reflecting the author's dedication to his task.

The China Controversy

Yegar includes the disagreements and public recriminations raised by the fundamental question of whether Israel, in the 1950s, disregarded Asia and missed the opportunity to establish diplomatic relations with China. He emphasizes a contested mission by Member of Knesset David Ha'Cohen, who favored diplomatic relations with China without preconditions whereas Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett refused. Sharett continued to vacillate concerning the reactions of the U.S. State Department and the American Jewish community as well as the possible influence of Chinese communism on the Israeli Arabs. Especially noteworthy was the active opposition to relations with Asia by Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon and Education Minister Zalman Aranne - two senior members of the ruling Mapai Party who were hostile to Sharett.

Indeed, to this day internal issues influence diplomatic and governmental developments in Israel. As Henry Kissinger once put it, "Israel does not have a foreign policy; its government is occupied only with domestic matters."

Yegar examines relevant governmental decisions and highlights the role of the foreign minister in each case. He praises Sharett's diplomatic resourcefulness, even when his plans were not implemented. He emphasizes that as foreign minister, Golda Meir devoted less attention to Asia than to Africa. Abba Eban was also, in Yegar's view, a disappointment as he focused all his activity on the United States and Europe.

Yegar points out that trade between Israel and Asian countries began to develop only after the Sinai Campaign in 1956. Despite obstruction by the Arab states, Jerusalem continued to expand its representation in Asia. By the end of 1960, it had embassies in Burma and Thailand, diplomatic officials in Japan and the Philippines, a chargé d'affaires in Ceylon, nonresident ambassadors in Nepal, Cambodia, and Laos, and a consulate in India. Israel's strongest base, however, was in Burma, reflecting the special personal relations between the respective prime ministers, David Ben-Gurion and U Nu.

In the second half of the book, Yegar explores Israeli diplomatic activity in each Asian country. After a comprehensive review of the forging of full diplomatic ties with India, he devotes an especially absorbing chapter to the relations with China from the first contacts in 1948 to the present. The breakthrough to full relations with both India and China began with the collapse of the Soviet bloc. That development, in conjunction with the first Gulf War leading to the Madrid Conference, fostered a great improvement in Israel's status in Asia. The process, however, is not yet complete, as important Muslim nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia still refuse diplomatic relations with Israel. Indeed, in 2003 then-Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made anti-Semitic declarations that encouraged a wave of Islamic terror on the continent.

The book's division into two parts, when in reality it is a single unified work, is somewhat unfortunate. It would have been preferable to spare readers having repeatedly to return to the introductory overview, instead focusing in the body of the book on the various diplomatic processes leading to relations with Asian countries.

The Long Journey to Asia is the best work ever written about Israel's foreign policy on this continent and is required reading not only for those interested in the intricacies of diplomacy. It can guide researchers, students, diplomats, and politicians in avoiding failed efforts and the repetition of past mistakes.

*     *     *


* This review was translated from the Hebrew by Shalom Bronstein.

The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The above book review appears in the Fall 2005 issue of the Jewish Political Studies Review, the first and only journal dedicated to the study of Jewish political institutions and behavior, Jewish political thought, and Jewish public affairs.

Published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (, the JPSR appears twice a year in the form of two double issues, either of a general nature or thematic, with contributors including outstanding scholars from the United States, Israel, and abroad. The hard copy of the Spring 2005 issue will be available in the coming weeks."

From the Editors: Manfred Gerstenfeld and Shmuel Sandler

The Forgotten Narrative: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries by Avi Beker

European Politics: Double Standards toward Israel by Manfred Gerstenfeld

Annals of Israeli-Albanian Contacts on Establishing Diplomatic Relations by Yosef Govrin

Perspectives - Jomo Kenyatta and Israel by Asher Naim

Assessing the American Jewish Institutional Response to Global Anti-Semitism by Steven Windmueller

The New Muslim Anti-Semitism: Exploring Novel Avenues of Hatred by Raphael Israeli

Arab and Muslim Anti-Semitism in Sweden by Mikael Tossavainen

Kill a Jew - Go to Heaven: The Perception of the Jew in Palestinian Society by Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook

Israel in the Australian Media by Tzvi Fleischer

Barbara Tuchman's Comments on Israel by Moshe Yegar

Hidden in Plain Sight: Alexis de Tocqueville's Recognition of the Jewish Origin of the Idea of Equality by Joel Fishman

Perspectives - The Seventh-Century Christian Obsession with the Jews: A Historical Parallel for the Present? by Rivkah Duker Fishman

Book Reviews:

Isi Leibler on Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos by Dore Gold

Shalom Freedman on Iran's Nuclear Option: Tehran's Quest for the Atom Bomb by Al J. Venter

Shalom Freedman on Rabin and Israel's National Security by Efraim Inbar

Freddy Eytan on The Long Journey to Asia by Moshe Yegar

Susanne Urban on From Cooperation to Complicity: Degussa in the Third Reich by Peter Hayes, and The Nazi Dictatorship and the Deutsche Bank by Harold James

Joel Fishman on The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People under Siege by Kenneth Levin

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Rising from the Muck: The New Anti-Semitism in Europe by Pierre-André Taguieff

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Les territoires perdus de la République: Antisémitisme, racisme et sexisme en milieu scolaire by Emmanuel Brenner

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America's Courts by Michael J. Bazyler

Shalom Freedman on Double or Nothing: Jewish Families and Mixed Marriages by Sylvia Barack Fishman

About the Contributors

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