The G20 summit is reminder that Jews need to think globally

November 24, 2016 23:22

British Prime Minister Theresa May is makes her first appearance at a global summit today at the G20 meeting in Hangzhou, eastern China. The city was once home to a small Jewish community and even a synagogue. In this symbolism lurks an important message for Jews around the world.

The G20 itself symbolises the new world order, and has supplanted the Western-dominated G8. It accounts for 85 per cent of world GDP and includes the rising Asian economic powers of China and India (and indeed also Brazil and Russia, comprising the so-called BRICs). Just as the economic balance of power is shifting east and south in the globe, Jewry worldwide needs to realign its relationships accordingly.

Whilst the US will remain an important ally, it is no longer the sole superpower. In particular, we should give greater prominence and priority to relationships with the rising states of the G20, particularly fast-growing countries in Asia.

The building-blocks of the new relationship are as follows – starting with demography and commercial factors. Around 56.1 per cent of the global Jewish population live in G20 countries. Jews comprise 0.17 per cent of the G20’s total population, not dissimilar to our 0.2 per cent of the world’s population. A number of the countries in the G20 have strong Jewish communities (notably the US, France and the UK) or an admiring fascination with Jews (South Korea and China, for instance). In South Korea, the Talmud is widely ready and mandatory in many classrooms. In addition, some well-known Jewish business groups have strong business and commercial links with some of these countries.

Second, even some of the countries with smaller Jewish communities have some interesting history. India, the world’s largest democracy, has had a Jewish population for hundreds of years. Jews became successful traders and merchants in Bombay, Calcutta and Cochin. Partly because of this, India is well-disposed towards the Jewish people. Similarly, China remembers fondly its Jewish small communities dating from medieval times and, more recently, its diverse communities in Shanghai and elsewhere, which featured a mixture of refugees fleeing Tsarist persecution, and Nazi Europe, as well as some Baghdadi Jews.

Third, as the Jewish nation-state, Israel has burgeoning trade, technology and diplomatic relations with many of these countries.

India’s PM Narendra Modi was the first to tweet his congratulations after Benjamin Netanyahu’s election victory in March 2015. A number of the G20 countries are at the forefront of the battle against Islamic terrorism. Even Saudi Arabia, the only country in the G20 with no recognised Jewish community, is developing warm relations with Israel. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country has growing business ties with Israel, albeit often below the radar.

Of course, despite what conspiracists would have you believe, there is no centralised Jewish authority worldwide, like the Papacy for the Catholics. However, the G20 meeting is a reminder of the need to think strategically about this realignment. As global economy rebalances, so the Jewish world must adjust. This is about a mindset shift among Jews and a need for us to think globally as a people. China and India do not just inspire delicious Kosher restaurants in north-west London, they will be increasingly important to the future of the Jewish people. Never mind the G20, perhaps we need a J20!

Zaki Cooper is a Trustee of the Council of Christians and Jews.

November 24, 2016 23:22

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