Prof Shillony on Japan’s Role In Arab-Israel Peace
Posted on January 11, 2012 by Marivel Guzman
Newsletter No. 1594
May 15, 2010
BEN-AMI SHILLONY ON JAPAN’S ROLE IN ARAB-ISRAELI PEACE
Professor Ben-Ami Shillony (Shingetsu Member No. 74) of Hebrew University in Jerusalem has submitted to the Shingetsu Newsletter an opinion article recently published in the Asahi Shinbun. The following is a slightly revised version of that article.
Japan Can Promote Peace in the Middle East
The recent visit of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to Japan came at a time when both countries find themselves on a collision course with their long-time patron, the United States.
In both cases, the confrontation involves construction. The Hatoyama Cabinet is criticized by the Obama administration for its inability to carry out the agreement for the relocation of the Futenma airfield to another part of Okinawa Prefecture. The Netanyahu government is admonished for its inability to stop the construction of Jewish housing on the West Bank and in Jerusalem.
Both Israel and Japan are afraid that their cordial relationship with Washington is undergoing a change. The Israelis are concerned that the Obama administration, despite its pro-Israeli pronouncements, will pursue closer ties with the more populous Arab world. There is a similar concern in Japan that despite its friendly pronouncements, the United States is going to regard China as its most important partner in East Asia. A continued inability of Japan and Israel to solve the Futenma and the settlement cases bodes ill for the future relations of these countries with the United States.
The present visit also sheds light on the state of relations between Japan and Israel. The Japanese have a favorable opinion of the Jews. This already started 106 years ago, when Jacob Schiff, the Jewish president of the Kuhn, Loeb and Co. investment bank in New York (which in 1977 merged with Lehman Brothers) extended substantial loans to Japan to help it win the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.
Another outstanding Jew who captured the imagination of the Japanese was Albert Einstein, who visited Japan in 1922. Both Schiff and Einstein admired Japan, creating in Japan the image of the rich and clever Jew.
Zionism, the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland in Palestine, had many supporters in prewar Japan. The Christian evangelist Uchimura Kanzo hailed it as the harbinger of the messianic age.
In 1920, when the League of Nations had to determine the future of Palestine after World War I, the delegates of the Big Four Powers (Britain, France, Italy and Japan) met in San Remo, Italy, and decided to allocate the mandate over Palestine to Britain on the basis of the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, which pledged to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine, was thus accorded legal international status.
In 1922, the Shanghai Zionist Association expressed its gratitude to Japan by inscribing the name of the Japanese foreign minister, Viscount Uchida Yasuya, in the Golden Book of the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem.
During World War II, Japan was an ally of Nazi Germany. But instead of killing Jews, as Hitler did, it saved thousands of them, enabling them to find refuge in Japan and in Japanese-held territories. Japan tried, during the war, to lure the Muslims of Asia and supported Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the anti-British mufti of Jerusalem, who spent the wartime years in Berlin.
Nevertheless, in February and March 1945, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia declared war on Japan.
During the war, Japan was sympathetic to the anti-British Zionist Revisionist movement (the forerunner of the present Likud Party in Israel), allowing its youth movement Beitar to function freely in Manchuria and Shanghai.
In 1952, following the end of the allied occupation, Japan and Israel established diplomatic relations. Israel was the first country in the Middle East to establish diplomatic ties with Japan after World War II. Japan was also the first country in Asia to establish diplomatic ties with Israel.
During the 58 years since then, relations between the two countries have withstood many pressures. Since the mid-1980s, relations have steadily developed.
The Japanese have a high regard for Israeli high-tech and many Israeli companies are doing good business in Japan despite the economic depression. Last month, the company Better Place, of the Israeli innovator and entrepreneur Shai Agassi, in conjunction with Tokyo’s Nihon Kotsu taxi company, started a pilot project of electrically operated taxis.
Japan is admired in Israel for both its traditional arts and its modern achievements. Hundreds of Israeli students study Japanese language and culture at Israeli universities and thousands of Israeli tourists flock to Japan.
Last year, the Japanese writer Murakami Haruki received the Jerusalem Literature Prize.
Japan and Israel can work together to promote peace in the Middle East. Japan is respected by both Arabs and Israelis for being objective and friendly.
Since 1996, a contingent of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force has been operating in the Golan Heights, as part of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). The Japanese government is extending economic aid to Palestinian refugees and to various projects of the Palestinian Authority.
A greater economic and diplomatic Japanese presence in the region will be beneficial to the peace process. But there is also a cultural role that Japan can play to promote peace in the Middle East. In 2005, the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs organized a conference on Culture and Peace at the ancient Horyuji temple in Nara. Professor Sari Nusseibeh, president of the Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, was invited to represent the Arab side and I was invited to represent the Israeli side. The organizers were surprised to see that we did not quarrel. On the contrary, we shook hands and proposed jointly that Japan establish a Center of Japanese Culture in Jerusalem that would serve both our universities and our peoples.
By studying and admiring a third culture, Palestinians and Israelis can learn to understand and respect each other. The proposal was welcomed by the agency’s president, professor Hayao Kawai, who promised to do his best to carry it out. But Kawai died two years later, and nothing came out of that plan.
I still believe that promoting Japanese culture in Jerusalem can promote peace in the Middle East.
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