Four rules of Israel engagement

This past March, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a strategic partnership agreement, they weren’t just aiming to facilitate collaboration between Israeli industries and Californian counterparts. They were strengthening the robust web of overlapping connections and ongoing exchanges that connect different elements of Southern California society with Israel. 

It’s just one of the engagements with Israel that we at the consulate have been hard at work on this past year. This week, as Los Angeles marks Israel’s 66th Yom HaAtzmaut, we wanted not just to celebrate what we’ve achieved, but also share a bit about what we’ve learned in the process. 

1. Engagement starts at home. Jewish continuity and connection to Israel are two, interdependent sides of the same coin. Cognizant of the importance of developing dialogue with all members of Klal Yisra’el, the Jewish people, we have worked to proactively initiate new channels of communication with organizations and community groups from all denominations. We attribute great importance to exposing Jewish communities to the dynamism and religious renewal coursing throughout Israel, and believe that fostering this kind of open and variegated dialogue is vital to ensuring a vibrant, healthy connection between the Jewish community and Israel. Even contentious issues, such as prayer arrangements at the Kotel, already have benefited from the increased understanding and openness.

2. Tell Israel’s story — to everyone. The cultural mosaic of Los Angeles has opened tremendous opportunities for deepening the ties between Israel and diverse local communities. As an immigrant society that has undergone a very successful and rapid process of social and economic development, Israel presents a valuable model for diverse communities throughout Southern California. For example, we have established educational projects for Latino and Jewish youth in San Diego and the San Fernando Valley, which draw on social innovation models developed in Israel. We have connected cutting-edge Israeli health experts with local organizations in the African-American and Asian-American communities on areas of mutual interest. We regularly engage with senior pastors and religious leaders throughout the region, speaking in churches and helping to promote visits to Israel. We have brought key community leaders together for inspirational moments, such as Fiesta Shalom at Sea, in which the commonalities among all of our diverse communities have come to the fore. We look forward to duplicating and expanding these efforts all over the region.

3. To stop BDS backers, we must Build, Develop and Sustain. Powering Israel’s “startup nation” are Israel’s outstanding academic institutions, and we have worked very hard to foster collaboration among Israeli universities and their local counterparts, with formal agreements, student and faculty exchanges and joint research projects blooming in all the significant universities in the region. We are currently working on establishing a scholarship fund in cooperation with the University of California to increase opportunities for California students of all backgrounds to benefit from the vibrancy and excellence of Israel’s universities. In recent years, UC Irvine has signed more than 10 agreements with five different Israeli universities. Meanwhile, almost all attempts to pass divestment resolutions at local universities in recent months have failed, underscoring that the best antidote to the tactics of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is to Build, Develop and Sustain. We have answered calls to boycott by building scientific collaboration. We have responded to calls for divestment by developing significant research and exchange opportunities. And we have countered calls for sanctions by sustaining ever-expanding academic cooperation with Israel. This is not only in the proper spirit of Israel’s positive ethos. It is also manifestly proving itself, by dwarfing an increasingly marginal divestment movement with unstoppable creative energy.   

4. Israel plays well with “the industry” — and nearly every other industry, too. Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, is bursting throughout the year with Israeli performers and artists sharing Israeli music, literature, dance, film and visual art with local audiencesm and at prestigious festivals and other venues. Israeli creativity has spawned hugely successful Hollywood productions, such as the Emmy-winning “Homeland.” Israeli wine and cuisine, very highly regarded internationally, are making tremendous inroads among local connoisseurs. 

The strategic partnership agreement between Israeli industries and Californian counterparts mentioned above has established a framework for an unprecedented deepening of Israeli-Californian technological and industrial cooperation, especially relevant in such crucial fields as water management and alternative energy, where Israeli innovations hold promise of being able to assist in confronting acute challenges currently faced by California. Such cooperation portends tremendous mutual benefit. We are working very hard with local stakeholders inside and outside of government to translate this framework into tangible projects. 

When Israel’s founding fathers forged the Jewish state from the postwar turmoil, they could not have envisioned how fast or how remarkably diverse the nation’s astounding success would be. What they had, above all else, was a vision and a determination to breathe life into the biblical prophecies that foresaw an Israel that would truly be a “light unto the nations,” both in terms of the values it was to embody and the contributions to humanity that it held the promise of generating. 

From the perspective of 66 years — a mere twinkle of an eye in the annals of the Jewish people — we can already look with heart-stirring awe at the extent to which Israel has lived up to these lofty aspirations. The consulate remains committed to bringing some of this magical feeling to the people and communities who make up the wondrously diverse social landscape of this beautiful land. We do so with the knowledge that the special relationship between Israel and the United States will continue to serve as the sturdiest and most reliable of anchors in an increasingly turbulent world.

Chag Atzmaut Sameach!

David Siegel and Uri Resnick are, respectively, consul general and deputy consul general of Israel to the Southwest United States.