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Students of Survival: Israel and Taiwan as Partners in Geopolitical Exile

Evan Stubbs
Yale Journal of International Affairs, May 23, 2024
 
“While previously opposed to bilateralism, dramatic upheavals in the geopolitical world order in the early 1970s left both Israel and Taiwan more vulnerable and isolated than ever, creating favorable conditions for pariah state cooperation.”
 
On December 29, 2021, Taiwan’s vice president (now the president-elect), Taipei’s mayor, the Israeli Representative to Taiwan, and a Jewish multi-millionaire from Cleveland gathered onstage. Above them, vaulted ceilings adorned with Star of David LED lights created a striking backdrop, and before them crowded an audience of diplomats, journalists, and dignitaries. The men smiled for photographs and then, cued by countdown, cut the ceremonial ribbon on Taiwan’s first-ever synagogue. The new Jewish Community Center, a $16 million, 22,500 square foot state-of-the-art facility, boasts a three hundred-person ballroom, kosher restaurant, museum of rare Judaica art, and bathrooms painted in gold leaf and tiled in custom-made Lebanese mosaics. The opening of Taiwan’s Jewish Community Center — opulent beyond all proportion to the island’s fewer than two thousand Jewish residents — is the latest development in a rich but understudied history of Israeli-Taiwanese relations.
 
Despite lacking official diplomatic ties, the two governments are informal but committed allies bonded by similar national circumstances. Both came into existence in the late 1940s — Israel in 1948 and Taiwan in 1949 — as safe havens for their respective populations. Israel promised the Jewish people security from antisemitism and memories of the Holocaust; Taiwan provided refuge for approximately 2.2 million refugees fleeing the Communist Party’s Civil War victory in mainland China. Both, from conception, faced existential threats: Israel, the Arab world, and Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
 
Both rely on their armed forces and high per-capita defense expenditures to ensure sovereignty. Internationally, both are pariah states that are not fully recognized as legitimate countries. The similarities between the two induced a Jerusalem Post writer to remark that Taiwan’s story “is so akin to that of Israel that it would not be far-fetched to wonder if — aside from the obvious differences in ethnicity — it were a case of twins separated at birth.” … [To read the full article, click here]

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