On December 18, 2:00PM at Yamano Beauty College in Tokyo, the Simon Wiesenthal Center will launch the Japanese premiere of its new exhibition, People. Book. Land. The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People With The Holy Land.
The public is welcome and encouraged to attend this event.
This exhibit is sponsored by the governments of the United States, Canada and Israel, and co-sponsored by UNESCO.
Why, you may ask, is this exhibit on the Jewish people and their historic homeland being shown in Japan?
It’s part of the encouraging trend of Japan and Israel deepening relations due to common interests and shared values.
Take, for example, Japan’s and Israel’s growing commercial relationship. Although starting out from a low base, ties between Japanese and Israeli companies have flourished in recent years, particularly in the high-tech, cyber security and health sectors.
Following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 2015 trip to Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2014 visit to Tokyo, a series of economic agreements were signed by both countries including some eye-catching deals such as Rakuten’s US$900 million purchase of the Israeli chat app, Viber.
Other notable developments have included Sony Corporation’s 2016 US$212 million purchase of Israel’s Altair Semiconductor; Takeda Pharmaceutical’s joint venture with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries to bring generic drugs to the Japanese market; and the boom in high profile Japanese corporate investments and R&D installations in Israel, among them, Panasonic, NEC, Fujitsu and Ricoh.
Furthermore, Japan is now among Israel’s largest markets in Asia, as indicated by the rise of bilateral trade. In 2014, Japan-Israel trade increased by 9.3% to US$1.75 billion and, according to data from Israel’s Economy Ministry, trade between both countries rose to US$3.69 billion in 2015.
It bears saying that Japan and Israel also face common threats and adversaries. While North Korean crimes of kidnapping Japanese nationals and missile launches over its territory are widely known, Pyongyang has also opposed Israel for decades in numerous ways.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Pyongyang provided MIG-21 pilots and other personnel to Egypt.
North Korean arms sales to Israel’s enemies in the Middle East are well documented, as are the regime’s efforts to assist Syria and Iran with the development of nuclear weapons programs and Hezbollah with the construction of underground tunnels in Lebanon.
ISIS is another menace that has murdered innocent Japanese nationals – – Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto – – as well as Israeli citizens in unprovoked attacks.
Another component in today’s Japan-Israel relationship is the close rapport between both countries’ leaders. In recent years, Prime Minister Netanyahu found in Prime Minister Abe a partner with whom he could cooperate on various fronts and Prime Minister Abe took to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s personality, drive and approach towards policymaking and engagement.
The budding relations between the two governments reflect Japan’s and Israel’s shared ideals as sister democracies with commitments to the rule of law, equality, human rights, innovation and free markets. This is particularly meaningful given that Israel is the only democratic nation in its region and due to Japan’s enduring commitment to democracy amid the increasingly despotic tendencies of states in its neighborhood, i.e., North Korea, China and Russia.
The positive trajectory in Japan-Israel relations must compel both countries to build upon the promising developments between their peoples and make up for lost time.
While the Jewish people have an eternal gratitude to Japanese heroes like Chiune Sugihara for his role in saving thousands of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, relations have not always been strong in the postwar era due to Japan’s 1980s secondary boycott of Israel and the wide circulation of Japanese publications that blamed Jews as the source of many societal and economic calamities throughout history.
Today, thankfully, relations between Japan and Israel are better. This is a testament to the hard work of both peoples over the course of decades, and educational projects like this exhibit is an important step in continuing this endeavor.
During the December 18 exhibit opening, former UNESCO Director-General Ambassador Koichiro Matsuura will be recognized for his work in building greater understanding among all nations, including Israel and the Jewish people.
To attend the December 18, 2pm exhibit opening ceremony, please e-mail RSVP4Functions@gmail.com and your name will be added to the event guest list.
Ted Gover, Ph.D., is an advisor to the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.