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China insult { July 30 2002 }

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Israel Cancels Einstein Exhibit In China Over 'Insult' to Jews

By John Pomfret
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 30, 2002; Page A12

BEIJING, July 29 -- Israel has canceled plans for an exhibition in China of letters, photographs and essays by Albert Einstein because Chinese censors objected to a passage describing Einstein as a Jew who supported the formation of a Jewish state, an Israeli spokesman said today.

The exhibition, which was set to open in September, was to last four months and travel to five cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. It would have marked the biggest cultural exchange program between Israel and China in years.

The cancellation, and the accompanying sniping by both sides, were signs of the deterioration in China's relations with Israel that began two years ago when Israel, buckling under U.S. pressure, canceled the sale of the Falcon airborne early warning system to China's military. Relations have suffered further since the intensification of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel.

China's government and state-run media rarely report Israel's point of view in the conflict and routinely ignore Palestinian suicide bombings, focusing on the damage caused by Israel's army.

According to news reports in Israel, at a recent meeting to review details of the Einstein exhibition, officials at China's Culture Ministry objected to a paragraph that described Einstein as a supporter of the Israeli state who was once offered the presidency of Israel by David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister.

"The Chinese said, 'Let's delete the fact that he's a Jew because every Chinese knows it anyway,' " a diplomatic source said. "We thought that was ridiculous."

It was not immediately clear why China demanded that Israel excise the paragraph, but there was some speculation that China wanted to avoid irritating Islamic countries with which it has cultivated close ties.

"This is another sign that things are not good between the two sides," said a Chinese expert on Beijing's relations with the Middle East who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I think our government just didn't want this exhibition right now and used this as an excuse."

Amir Sagi, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Beijing, said China's demands to delete the paragraph were unacceptable and that China's ambassador to Israel had been summoned to supply an explanation.

"We cannot accept this change in the records of history," Sagi said. "This is an insult to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel, and we oppose this censorship. It's a pity because Einstein is so admired by China's people and China's leadership."

China's president, Jiang Zemin, visited Israel in 2000 and suggested at the time that an exhibition about Einstein be organized for China. Relations then were the closest they had been in years, and popular interest in Jewish culture has skyrocketed here in recent years.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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