In recovery mode, Chinese donors shell out for Israel’s coronavirus fight

Flights bringing medical supplies include equipment donated from people in China, many of whom visited the Jewish state; diplomat says Shanghai consulate being inundated with goods

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Betty Xi (right) and Danielle Gurevitch (Courtesy)
Betty Xi (right) and Danielle Gurevitch (Courtesy)

As a plane laden with medical aid from China touched down at Ben Gurion Airport on Monday, insiders revealed that much of the cargo had been donated by former tourists and academic exchange alumni who have fond memories of Israel.

“There are so many Chinese people who want to help Israel,” said Betty Xi, who has raised funds to buy protective equipment for Israel as the crisis calms in China.

Yossi Ben Shritrit, the strategic adviser to the Israeli consulate in Shanghai, told The Times of Israel that people are inundating the diplomatic mission with medical materials for shipping to Tel Aviv.

Chinese tourism to Israel has grown enormously over the last three years and, according to Ben Shitrit, most of the donors have visited Israel, for sightseeing or for business.

He said donations made up a large part of the cargo that arrived Monday and that 10 other flights coming to Israel with medical goods from China would also be carrying donations, alongside goods that Israel is buying.

According to the Defense Ministry, which organized the shipment, there were more than 900,000 surgical masks, half a million protective suits for medical teams and other “critical equipment” on the flight that landed Monday morning.

Plane carrying 20 tons of medical equipment from China arrives at Ben Gurion Airport, April 6, 2020 (El Al/Defense Ministry)

Hebrew media has reported about the efforts of the Mossad intelligence service to source medical supplies and many Israelis have come to assume that goods arriving have been obtained with a struggle — not from giving hands.

“It just keeps coming,” said Ben Shitrit.

He added: “We got donations from several entities. There are very rich people in China who were willing to donate, people who love Israel. In China it’s opposite to other places in the world, in that there isn’t anti-Semitism but rather lots of admiration for Israel and Jews.”

Besides wealthy donors, some Chinese cities also gave medical equipment, Ben Shitrit said.

At Bar Ilan University’s Azrieli Faculty of Medicine in the northern city of Safed, there was excitement that packages of protective suits, face shields, eye goggles, N95 masks and surgical masks will soon arrive on the flight — sent by Chinese alumni of the university.

Supplies of protective gear were running so low there that some doctors and staff were sent home because they couldn’t be kept safe. Now, they will return to the faculty.

“It’s like a miracle, as we really didn’t know where to get equipment from, or even where to search,” said Danielle Gurevitch, director of Bar Ilan’s Dangoor Center for Universal Monotheism and coordinate of the university’s Chinese alumni organization.

Gurevitch said that by enabling students and doctors to work again, “this assistance will save lives and is critical to our continued efforts.”

A technician carries out a diagnostic test for coronavirus at a laboratory in central Israel. (Flash90)

Xi, a visiting scholar at Peking University, is also a Bar Ilan graduate and returning student, who splits her time between China and Israel. She raised the money for the university’s goods by tapping 50 other alumni. In the space of 72 hours, she raised NIS 36,000 ($9,970), mostly from people who have become academics after postdoctoral fellowships in Israel.

“We have such good memories of being at Bar Ilan in Israel and were so deeply influenced by the spirit of the university, so we really wanted to do something for the university,” she said in a telephone interview from Beijing.

Xi added that the feeling of solidarity is heightened by the fact that Israeli help was received in China when the coronavirus crisis was at its height there.

Bar Ilan’s vice president for Global Resources Sharon Goldman wrote an emotional thank you note to the alumni in China.

“I simply want to express deep appreciation for everything you have been doing,” she wrote. “Not only are the actual shipments incredibly meaningful, but so is the effort and care you put into organizing them. Truly, when I saw the way you signed your note, and the stickers you are putting on the packages, it brought tears to my eyes.”

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