It’s been almost a month since I received an email from a reader pointing me to an English article in Haaretz, my favorite Israeli newspaper, called “Our moral nakedness” :

[…] In other words, a casus belli that has everyone trembling. The UN secretary general, who received Chen’s official request to join, has not even bothered to send it for discussion in the Security Council, as is required. He preferred to return it to the sender. Europe, for its part, has informed Chen that his initiative is “not helpful” and is “liable to undermine stability.” The administration of United States President George W. Bush, which whole-heartedly praises liberty and democracy, has declared the initiative a “mistake” and has contributed a typical “diplomatic pearl” to the discussion: “Taiwan cannot join the United Nations, as at the moment it is not a state in the international community.”

And Israel? It has no choice but to go with the flow, as they say in Jerusalem. At least this is what Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni did during her visit to Beijing last week, when she praised the “shared values” of China and Israel. Some in Taipei wondered exactly what the minister was referring to – values like democracy, human rights and freedom of speech? The insult to the Taiwanese is particularly harsh in light of their identification with Israel: two small and effervescent “real democracies” engaged in their own security-existential troubles, exposed to threats from a huge external enemy and dependent on American protection and aid. Some call Taiwan “the Israel of the Pacific” and “the David of the Far East.”

Chen is not naive. He knows his initiative will fail. He knows the “regional Goliath” is also a “global Goliath” and that “might makes right” turns the wheels of international diplomacy. His role boils down to showing the world its moral nakedness.

I saw Michael Turton write about this a while ago in his “Recent Taiwan Sightings in the media” with the warm “Rock on, Haaretz” , and was then pleasantly surprised to find a criticizing response from a Taiwan based blogger “The Far-east Sweet Potato” with “Our moral nakedness: a response“:

Sadly, the author concludes with a flawed analogy by comparing Taiwan with Israel, “two small and effervescent ‘real democracies’ engaged in their own security-existential troubles, exposed to threats from a huge external enemy and dependent on American protection and aid.” Foreign editor at Haaretz, a newspaper with a long, enviable tradition of even-handed reporting on Israeli politics (see Amira Haas’ clear-eyed columns on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, for example), Primor should know better than to equate Taiwan’s struggle for survival with Israel’s, as the “David of the Far East,” as he puts it, does not face “a huge external enemy” because of its long history of colonialism and military adventurism, at least not since dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) left the scene.

Unlike Israel, Taiwan does not threaten its neighbors, does not invade their airspace or bomb capital cities back to the stone age. Nor does it hold millions hostage in Apartheid-like submission — all misguided policies that (a) most Israelis do not agree with and (b) are largely responsible for that “huge external enemy” in the first place. Beijing denies the very existence of Taiwan; most Arabs do not deny Israel’s right to exist and those who do certainly do not have the means to bring about such a reality. If it wanted, Beijing could raze Taiwan to the ground (It would help if Israel stopped selling military technology to China). Conversely, given its tremendous military (largely the result of US “carte blanche” military transfers and billions in annual aid, as well as its nuclear arsenal), it is Israel, what with its unconditional support from Washington, that is in a position, if it wanted, to annihilate its enemies — not the other way around.

I find this all very interesting. I might not be very objective, but I tend to think a comparison between Israel and Taiwan is a valid one for many reasons which I can talk about for hours. I honestly wouldn’t know where to begin.

For a very long time since declaring independence Israel has been facing an overly hostile neighboring alliance that has put a world wide oil-based embargo on Israel and anybody dealing with Israel, not to mention the existential wars of 1948, 1950-4, 1967, 1973, facing economical seclusion resulting in an ever struggling economy. I honestly hope that no Taiwanese would ever have to go through all that once (if) Taiwan does declare independence. I would say the comparison between 1948’s Israel against the Arab alliance is an interesting comparison to the political situation between Taiwan-China. It has taken time, a long long time, for some of the Arab countries, namely Egypt and Jordan, to accept Israel’s right to exist in their region. It becomes a lot more complicated when it comes to discussing Israeli Arabs and Palestinian opinions on this issue.

As for today’s Israel, I find it nothing but a miracle that Israel is indeed in at a different stage – struggling with highly involving political situations that have little to do with what Taiwan is facing today. But, I do believe that Taiwan and Israel are rare democracies in their regions, both facing major security issues, and both are – whether they like it or not – politically tied with the states. I’ve never before commented on Israeli politics here, but I would say that I naturally disagree and feel highly uncomfortable with the “Nor does it hold millions hostage in Apartheid-like submission — all misguided policies that (a) most Israelis do not agree with and (b) are largely responsible for that “huge external enemy” in the first place”. I think it shows a very stereotypical somewhat condescending judgement of the Israeli-Palestinian politics from someone who’s not facing the 9-11/existential threat in his everyday life. But, in any case, I think the analogy to the “huge external enemy” might be more relevant to the Iranian Syrian promise, and lately – proven attempts – to develop and use nuclear arms against Israel. This has nothing to do with Palestine – it’s a combination of regional, religious, and plain insane reasoning. Together with the terror threat coming from Lebanon and Palestine, this puts Israel in the most impossible of situations. From my very limited understanding of the stand-out between China-Taiwan from the Hebrew University East-Asia department, aside from using nuclear weapons, Taiwan is in no threat of annihilation, and right now – even with the growing capabilities of the Chinese army , China isn’t that all-mighty. The Chinese army is a highly-targeted army, focusing on those special areas that cost little but may have bigger impact, mainly argued against “western powers”. Taiwan’s western style army, backed by a much stronger economy built far longer than China’s, is not on it’s feet against the Chinese army, but it might be – in a few years. Chinese are probably aware that a possible conflict will not be as simple as marching in Taiwan and taking over.

But I digress. This is a huge – maybe even somewhat sensitive – topic, but Haaretz’s Editor’s idea is important. Our moral nakedness goes beyond the issue of pleasing China’s economy in the Taiwan issue, it goes into having double standards in judging others for what we practice ourselves. Israel is a small insignificant country in the international politics arena, especially when it comes to the UN, so it sadly follows the crowd – or at best (/worst), America. I would atleast like to see Israel make the effort of standing on the fence in supporting neither sides, being there for Taiwan behind the scenes in an un-official level. But, being realistic, seems like no western globalized country can afford to do that now. In any way – he might be a controversial character, but I highly respect Chen for doing what he does to push the Taiwanese people and the international community to make a stand on this issue. It makes us all face our morals and values, not always in a comfortable way.



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I’m curious; they say an adopted Englishman is more English than a real Englishman, so it seems that there are a lot of pan-Green Westerners in Taiwan. Are there ever any pan-Blue Westerners?

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Boss, got any recommendations? I’ve never heard any well-elucidated pan-blue perspectives, and while Roland Soong is quite intelligent and well-cultured, he’s not a opinion-swayer. I’d imagine that the pan-green perspective is closer to that of a modern Western leftist, but I’m opposed to the pan-green perspective: Taiwanese identity is a very recent construct, and is most likely a political fabrication. Hoklo is still very close to Hokkien, the Taiwanese are still ethnic Chinese.

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The Israeli problem scares me; there’s a heterodoxy of views and a high quantity of passion. It sort of reminds me of reading Daisann’s Hong Kong blog, where there’s an entry where she mentions off-handedly that she’s considering boycotting her favorite store because it supports the pro-Beijing DAB. But for the legitimacy of a newly developed identity, what I recall having read is that many Chinese are anti-Taiwanese identity, mainly because the Taiwanese separatist faction is anti-Chinese and does not refrain from spewing anti-Chinese venom. There’s regional identity all over China, Shanghainese, Guangdongnese, Fujianese, Anhuiren, Beijingers, but up to the… Read more »

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Fili, Wow, I could hardly believe that you’ve written so much on this Israel-Taiwan and Taiwan-China issue!!! You’re always handling such sensitive issue with great care and seldom give out your own opinions. Hehe. Anyway, I tend to view the Israel-Arab issue completely different from the China-Taiwan issue. Fundamentally, Taiwanese and Chinese are ethnically the same. China’s getting Taiwan back movement should be viewed as a sign of reunion, getting the blood back to the family, at least this is what the Chinese think. Annihilation is never what we’re intended. We love, we care our blood, but only basing on… Read more »

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