In the United States, over the years, Jews migrated to Chinese restaurants on Christmas or Christmas Eve, as they were one of only a few restaurants open, as most of American society was celebrating the holiday. Today, it seems like the favor has been returned, and not only over the Christmas holiday, but almost daily, Chinese investors flock to Israel – and I think it is more than to just eat falafel and humus.
In the middle 1980s, I worked for the American Friends of the Hebrew University, I was approached by businessman, who had befriended a Chinese student at Harvard, where they both studied. In those days, Chinese students traveling out of mainland China where far less common than today. It turns out, the student’s father was a ranking member of the Communist Party in China and had been a close friend of Chairman Mao.
The friendship between the businessman (who later established a soda pop business in China) and his Harvard classmate grew over the years and that led to a visit to China. While in China, know that the businessman was Jewish, he was approached to seek his assistance in reaching out to Israel for assistance in agricultural, and particularly water technology. Since the Hebrew University was a significant center of technology in this area, he reached out to me to see if I could make introductions.
A meeting was arranged in Cleveland, Ohio (where we both lived) with Ambassador Avraham Harman, Chancellor of the Hebrew University. Funded by the businessman, that led to one of the first Chinese visits to Israel seeking technology. That led to several back and forth visits and some assistance with water technologies.
Fast forward, 30 years, I am now on a bus with 30 Chinese investors traveling between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on a scouting trip for technologies to invest in. In the 18 months since that trip, that group has invested in 5 Israeli technologies and an Israeli incubator.
And what is even more surprising, this delegation was one many that regularly travel to Israel seeking to make investments or purchase Israeli companies. The Chinese have a very high regard for Israel technology and are eager to be able to invest. A number of Israel VC fund have opened office in Asia to promote investment opportunities in Israel and Chinese funds are opening in Israel
This has led to mega-deals like the purchase of Tnuva by China’s Bright Food Group to a number of early stage investments. It is a perfect marriage, Israel is a country with leading technologies and high quality companies and China is modernizing and needs these advances—and has the resources to invest. This has also lead to scientific exchanges between the two countries.
Once China and Israel would have been considered “strange bedfellows” today they appear to be close friends. China still is overcoming its reputation as a place where intellectual property protection is not always adhered to, but so far it appears the business relationship between the two countries remains strong and growing. While being cautious, the IP issue has not been a stumbling block.
In many ways Israel has made a new close friend. Now, if we all could just figure out how to eat a Falafel with chopsticks.