At the President’s Conference today (#tomorrow13), at a special session organized for bloggers, I asked Professor Stanley Fischer, Governor of the Bank of Israel, the following question:

We all agree that Israel developing and enhancing economic ties with China is among the highest of strategic priorities. But at the same time, China is repressing political and religious dissidents, incarcerating them, torturing them and even selling their organs. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, we demonstrated in front of Soviet embassies on behalf of Jewish refuseniks, and applauded the position of Senator Jackson tying US economic policy to human rights. What should be the position of the Jewish state with respect to even worse violations by China today?

Professor Fischer first noted that a country and its leadership are forced to make difficult decisions. He compared this issue to the decision that Israel had to make in the 1950s regarding the question of accepting reparations from Germany. The choice Israel made was to receive the financial compensation, though many argued that accepting money would be viewed as forgiveness or absolution – if only partial. That decision, Fischer claims, saved the economy of the struggling country, which could not have otherwise survived.

Difficult decisions.

It is easy to be an absolutist, he continued, but you have to fight the battles that can make a difference. Fischer doesn’t believe that an economic boycott by Israel will have any impact on the Chinese so long as the rest of the world, especially Europe and the US, continues to trade with them unimpeded. “We have a duty to protest policies that we don’t agree with,” Fischer said, “but we don’t have a duty to punish ourselves for what amounts to less than a pin prick in China’s mammoth economy.”

I have extremely mixed feelings about this. I’d love to hear your comments.