Home January 2012 Presenting the Real Israel

Presenting the Real Israel

Of his new role as Consul General of Israel, David Siegel said, “It’s about k’lal Yisrael.  It’s about Jews in Israel and North America and wherever they may be – one people with a complicated background, exciting but challenging.”
Siegel, who addressed a crowd of 800 community members at Temple Bat Yahm in December, could have been describing his own complicated Jewish background – making aliyah from the U.S. at the age of 6 after the Six Day War, growing up with a father who was a Conservative rabbi and co-founder of the Masorti Judaism movement in Israel, being educated at an Orthodox yeshiva, teaching at a Reform congregation and being a chazzan at a Chabad shul.  Apparently, it was good training for Siegel to relate to all kinds of Jews as he has risen in the Israeli diplomatic scene.
Siegel, whose talk was sponsored by the Rose Project in conjunction with the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and Temple Bat Yahm, addressed the differences between the reality in Israel and the reality overseas.
At the age of 64 Israel is one of the oldest democracies in the world, Siegel said.  It has also become the home of numerous Nobel Prize winners, a destination for some of the world’s most prominent companies to invest money, a global hub for creativity and innovation and a source for solutions to the world’s greatest medical environmental and other problems.
“In the Israel I come from, our businessmen are all over the Middle East, and there’s more coexistence than you can imagine,” Siegel said.  “The first planned Palestinian city is being built by Jews and Palestinians, the border is open, economic relations are robust, growth rates are high and unemployment is low.”
He added,” In Israel the economy is incredible, and tourism rates are the highest in history.  We’re getting 4 million tourists per year, winning prizes for everything from medicine to wine and sending wheat to Italy for pasta.  We hosted a water technology conference, Intel is the largest employer in Israel and Google just opened a research center there.”
Israel has a non-governmental organization (NGO) called “Save a Child’s Heart” that does free heart surgeries around the world.  Ben Gurion University of the Negev is creating future water policies for the world, and 700 Bedouin women are studying there.  Israel is providing humanitarian aid to 140 countries around the world, some of which do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
“So is this a land in crisis or a land of opportunity?” Siegel asked.  His job, as he covers seven American states, meeting with governors, senators and congressmen, is to present the opportunities for connection between Israel and the U.S. – to show how the Americans can take advantage of Israeli innovation in medical technology, biotechnology and environmental technology.
Siegel also addressed the issue of “Arab Spring,” which he said is “not an accurate term.”  Rather it is a problem of “significant turbulence in the Middle East in which 21 Arab countries have people who have not experienced democracy and are “societies in deep crisis.”
In Egypt, Siegel said, the economy is contracting, tourists are not going and college graduates have no prospects.  In Syria, when Bashar al-Assad’s government is toppled, there will be a crisis.  That will have an impact on Lebanon.  Iran is clearly developing nuclear weapons.
“There are uprisings with no clear solutions,” Siegel said.  “The story of Israel over 64 years is that it is situated in an unfriendly Middle East, but is has become strong anyway.”
Siegel hopes that Israel can negotiate with pragmatic Palestinian leaders, “even if we can’t agree on everything.”  He hopes to maintain the “ongoing cooperation on the ground” and the strong relationship between Israel and the U.S.
Addressing the issue of extremists in Israel, Siegel said, “Israeli society is not perfect.  It’s an extraordinary but normal society.  The rule of law is what matters, and there are equal rights for all.  The ultraorthodox community is not monolithic, and the settler community is not monolithic.”
The settlement issue is not Israel’s most difficult issue, he added.  He hopes to end the conflict and make sure Israel is recognized.  “The global delegitimization campaign has no central address, and it is disseminating poison,” he said.  “We want to take a proactive approach to that problem.”
Every program of the consulate is designed to present “the real Israel,” Siegel explained.  “We want to bring the force of Israel to you, because people who go to Israel come back transformed.”


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