Einstein in China Not Just a Legend

The China-bound exhibit of Albert Einstein, once canceled, is back on track — maybe.

The exhibit on the life of the great scientist, a joint project of the Israeli foreign ministry and the Hebrew University, was slated for display in Beijing in September, as part of a Far Eastern tour.

However, China threatened to censor parts of the exhibit dealing with Einstein’s Jewish and Zionist ties, and Israel, after filing a diplomatic protest, called off the China tour.

The contretemps came just as China-Israel relations were mending, following a rift after Israel, under pressure from Washington, canceled a deal to sell Phalcon airborne radar systems to Beijing.

Particularly disturbed by the new incident was the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Asia and Pacific Rim Institute, which has spent more than a decade cultivating relations with major Asian countries.

In a letter to the Chinese foreign minister, dated Aug. 8, Neil C. Sandberg, the institute’s founding director in Los Angeles, and Barry A. Sanders, its chairman in Washington, protested the Chinese censorship.

"The objection of Chinese officials to including references to Einstein’s Jewishness and to his support for creating a Jewish state are deeply offensive to Jews everywhere," they wrote. "The fact that Einstein was invited to be the president of Israel is critical to an accurate understanding of one of the greatest individuals in modern history."

China’s ambassador in Washington, Yang Jiechi, responded Sept. 11 with a conciliatory note, which seemed to leave the way open for a resolution of the incident.

"We wish to clarify the basic facts that the exhibit has never been canceled," wrote Yang. "What has happened is that China and Israel had some differences on certain wordings with respect to the exhibit, which led to some misunderstandings.

"Unfortunately, the said misunderstandings … were exaggerated by some media, especially some in Israel, and finally turned out to be groundless rumors about the ‘cancellation’ of the exhibit and the Chinese ‘objection’ to this and that."

Yang continued, "In fact, the Chinese people always have friendly sentiments toward the Jewish people, as evidenced by, among others, the many Jews who were protected by Chinese against Nazi Germany’s Holocaust during World War II. We all admire Albert Einstein as a great scientist and a great son of the Jews. It is definitely a good thing to have such an exhibit in China.

"The very purpose of the exhibit is to highlight the scientific accomplishments of Einstein and his contribution to mankind in the field of science, which should be prioritized. It is thus unwise to outshine, in any way, this primary achievement of his whole life. Nevertheless, we have no objection to the inclusion of his political views in appropriate places of the exhibit. Please be assured that China and Israel are able to solve this issue through friendly consultation."

The ambassador concluded, "I wish to thank you for your interest in deepening the understanding and friendship between the Chinese and Jewish people. Naturally, this is also one of the goals that we, on our part, will spare no effort to work for."

That’s where the situation seems to stand at the moment, according to Sandberg.

Repeated attempts to obtain additional information from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, the Israeli foreign ministry in Jerusalem and the Israeli embassies in Washington and Beijing were unsuccessful.

The AJC institute’s main focus, said Sandberg, has been to interpret Israel and Jewish life generally to Asian countries, combat the Arab economic boycott and fight anti-Semitism.