Yair Lapid hosts a weekly television newsmagazine called “Ool’Pan Shi’Shi” (Friday’s Studio). This last Friday I watched a piece in Ool’Pan Shi’Shi about Israeli entrepreneur Avi Shaked who set out to establish a chain of coffee shops in Shanghai, China. You see, apparently the Chinese favour the traditional tea over coffee, and drink it only because it’s trendy and it symbolizes the West.
In any case, this Israeli brand, titled Citta Caffe, has currently only 3 branches in the entire country — while the competing Starbucks already has 350(!) branches in China. Yet, according to the reporter, the Chinese people see Citta as equal in dominance and relevance to Starbucks, a widespread notion that derives from the way the Chinese view the Israeli. As evident from the piece, Jewish people are considered in China to be intelligent and savvy in the business world. One could find books in Shanghai titled “How to make money like the Jews” and so forth.
What really caught my attention was one innocent quote… At the end, the reporter asked a young Chinese woman what she thinks of Israel and its people, and the woman responded that
“the whole world is controlled by the Israeli people, but the whole world is made in China”. This tongue-in-cheek answer, which may seem at first like an attempt at flattering, turned a red light in my mental dashboard.
Is this reputation true? We’re intelligent? We’re business savvy? Well, of course there are many intelligent Jews, and many who succeed in business, but there are just as many successful Americans, rich French, or savvy Chinese. See, it’s true that historical reasons drove a large percentage of the Jewish diaspora into the business world as they were forbidden to engage in many other professions, and it’s also true that the Israeli culture promotes its members to be daredevils and to claim their place in the world. I don’t think it’s a bad thing; on the contrary, I’m proud of my culture. But these characteristics cause our tiny country to be very “noisy”, from a global perspective, relative to its size — and this notion fosters hostility and envy by many.
When the Chinese revere Jewish people as smart and successful, it may be a sign of affection and respect on their part — yet I can’t help but to think how these very same stereotypes were so prevalent across Europe in the 1930’s.