Why China Is So Eager to Foment Antisemitism

People burn the Israeli flag during a protest to express their solidarity with Gaza in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, on November 2, 2023. (Photo by Hasan Mrad/DeFodi Images News/Getty Images)

While the whole world is talking about Israel, let’s take a moment to talk about China. 

Why? Well for starters, one of the reasons the whole world is talking about Israel, is that’s the way China wants it. 

In the wake of Hamas’ barbaric anti-Jewish pogrom on October 7, anti-Jewish hate has exploded exponentially on the Chinese owned social media platform TikTok. This has reignited calls for banning the platform in the U.S. Opponents note—correctly— that anti-Semitism has exploded on other social media platforms, and TikTok itself insists that it is working hard to combat the spike in bigotry and death threats. 

That will be a tall task because the Chinese state, which ultimately controls the platform,  has been encouraging antisemitism and anti-Zionism for years now. State-run media regularly claim that Jews control the world economy and American foreign policy. Social media “influencers” have a free hand to cheer on Hamas and claim Israelis are Nazis. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Chinese companies Baidu (a search engine) and Alibaba (an e-commerce site) literally erased Israel from their maps. When Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently visited Beijing, a debate erupted over whether China should deal with an “Old Jewish lady” who has a dual loyalty to the interests of the U.S. government and to Wall Street.  

Lest you try to pass all of this off on independent voices in China, you need to remember that—very much unlike Israel—China bans criticism it doesn’t like. You can’t even post a picture of Winnie the Pooh because it’s seen as a jab at Xi Jinping. But you can rant about Jewish hunger for blood and money all you like. 

The argument for banning TikTok in the U.S. doesn’t rely on Chinese efforts to foment antisemitism in the U.S.—or at home – but on its broader threats to national security. But the fact that a foreign power thinks it has an interest in amplifying Jew-hatred in America should inform how we think about the issue. 

It should also inform how we think about not only China, but how we think about many of Israel’s critics. 

The standard indictment of Zionism is that it is “racist” because it practices Jewish “apartheid.” The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer writes, “there is nothing anti-Semitic about anti-Zionists who believe that the existence of a religious or ethnically defined state is inherently racist.” Whatever you think of such statements in a vacuum, it does make one wonder why this standard is applied so selectively to Israel. 

By almost any measure, China is the most nativist nation on Earth. Even North Korea has more immigrants. Thanks to Chinese conceptions of racial purity, as of 2020, only .00118535714 percent (16,595) of China’s 1.4 billion citizens are naturalized citizens. 

But not all Chinese citizens are equal. Many non-Han Chinese are second-class citizens, required to show internal passports to leave their increasingly occupied territories. Indeed, the Chinese are practicing “settler colonialism” on a massive scale. Local customs and the teaching of minority languages are widely banned. Han Chinese are erasing ancient cultures in Mongolia, Tibet, and most acutely in Xinjiang, the home of the Uyghurs. 

Even Uyghurs not put in prison camps are banned from practicing their religion. Their mosques and cemeteries are being being razed. Under what might be called “ Jim Crow with Chinese Characteristics,” Uyghurs and Tibetans can be denied service and hotel rooms. Anti-African racism is commonplace. Judaism, which isn’t recognized as a religion, must be practiced in secret. Slave labor, mostly by Muslims,  endures in China.  

After meeting with Chinese President Xi last June, Mahmoud Abbas, now finishing the 18th year of his four-year term as president of the West Bank, assured the world that China’s persecution of Muslim Uyghurs “had nothing to do with human rights.”

But Israel, where a fifth of citizens are Muslim or non-Jewish, is a unique threat to human rights and democracy? The U.N. seems to think so. While it downplays China’s abuses, the General Assembly has condemned Israel 140 times since 2015. Russia comes in second with 23 condemnations. China? Zero. 

This points to China’s motive for fomenting hatred of Israel and Jews. It’s a useful distraction from its own sins and a way to pander to, and encourage, global antisemitism and anti-Americanism. 

But it doesn’t explain why so many people are so eager to believe that a bigoted, oppressive, regime has the moral authority to condemn Israel, demonize Jews, and celebrate their slaughter. Nor does it explain why so many supposed proponents of liberal Western values are uniquely offended by Israel alone. 

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