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October 27, 2016 / 25 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Interview’

Fighting Anti-Israel NGOs And BDS Activists: An Interview with Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

In just a few years, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has shot to political stardom in Israel. A computer engineer turned politician, Shaked, 40, has been a member of Knesset for the Jewish Home party since 2013 and was appointed justice minister by Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2015.

Shaked, a forceful champion of Israel’s rights both at home and abroad, is an outspoken supporter of Jewish settlements and was the driving force behind Israel’s 2016 NGO transparency law.


The Jewish Press: Can you describe your background and what influenced your political views and your decision to join the Jewish Home party?

Shaked: I was right wing since I was a child, after having watched a debate between Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres. I served in the army in the Golani Brigade and that also influenced my ideology, since most of the soldiers were from the Religious Zionist movement.

For a few years I was a Likud member, working with Benjamin Netanyahu after the Gaza Disengagement. I decided to leave the Likud and join the Jewish Home party because I thought that it’s very important to have a party that has secular and Orthodox working together on the basis of Religious Zionist values.

How concerned are you that the UN will try to impose a unilateral solution on Israel?

The UN is a very political and biased organization and I don’t believe in truth coming from it. It’s just a body of political interests. The fact that the UN has failed to deal with Syria while hundreds of thousands of women and children are being slaughtered there proves that it does nothing. The UN tries to hit Israel whenever it can in a very biased approach without even mentioning the ongoing incitement by the Palestinian Authority. Just the other day Mahmoud Abbas paid a condolence call to families of terrorists who tried to kill Jews.

The UN also ignores the fact that there are terror attacks conducted in the U.S. for the same reason – radical Islam against the West. In dealing with the UN, Israel should stick to its own beliefs.

Establishing a Palestinian state right now is a very dangerous thing. It’s also not realistic at all. The majority of the people in Israel, including those from the left and center, don’t think we have a partner right now. So Ban Ki-moon can talk, but it’s just wishful thinking. In reality we will do what we think is good for us.

How would you advise America to combat the scourge of Islamist terrorism that both America and Israel face?

You just need to face reality. In Europe they are already facing reality and identifying it as radical Islamic terrorism. We are not at war with Islam. In Israel, 20 percent of the population is Muslim. And we have a very good relationship with them. But we need to distinguish between Islam and radical Islamic terror, which threatens the Western world.

This is actually a war between two civilizations; between the Western world and radical Islamic terror. It’s in the U.S., in Europe, in Israel; it’s all over the Middle East. And radical Islam is mainly aimed at hurting other Muslims. There are hundreds of thousands of Muslims all over the Middle East who have been slaughtered because of this extreme ideology. We need to face this reality.

What is your position on Israel’s claim to Judea and Samaria?

After the Oslo Accords, Judea and Samaria were assigned to areas A, B, and C. Areas A and B are under the Palestinian Authority and area C is under Israeli authority. If you ask me what will be in the end, how will we finish the conflict, I believe we should annex area C. There are 425,000 Jews and 90,000 Arabs who are living there. The Arabs should be full citizens of Israel and get all the according rights. Areas A and B should be a strong autonomy or in conjunction with Jordan.

Under international law, those territories are not occupied territories; they are territories under dispute. There is a lot of land in area C that belongs to the state and we should expand building on those lands. There’s nothing we need to apologize for. It’s legally state land and we should continue to build there.

You initiated and then advanced Israel’s NGO bill through the Knesset. What do you hope it will achieve in terms of deterring agitators from working within Israel?

It’s a transparency bill. In Israel, there are a few NGOs that get the majority of their money from abroad from different countries. Those countries actually try to interfere in a diplomatic way in Israeli policy and are trying to do it through NGOs.

We are not forbidding that, but we want the public to be aware of it. That’s why we passed a transparency bill that any NGO that gets more than 50 percent of its budget from a foreign country should declare it when approaching a Knesset member and in their official publications.

What more can be done about many of these NGOs who are aligned with the BDS movement and their allies, such as the Black Lives Matter delegation that recently visited Israel and accused it of “genocide”?

There are definitely NGOs in Israel that cooperate with BDS groups, mainly in the United States. They actually lay the groundwork for the lies and they distort the facts the BDS groups end up using.

We need to determine what falls under freedom of speech, but we are fighting against the threat of delegitimization the NGOs are pursuing. This is something we are dealing with on a regular basis because it’s based on lies and it hurts Israel.

Unfortunately, many agitators against Israel in these various groups are Jewish. What would you say to them as Jews?

They are confused. I talked about it in the lecture that I gave to the JNF, in which I said there are extreme liberal Jews who just swallow the lies and the propaganda the BDS movement is selling. They are confusing liberal and human rights values with the new anti-Semitism. BDS is perpetrating a fraud and unfortunately there are people who are buying into it.

Sara Lehmann

‘God Has Sent Us The Jew From Judah To Help Us’: An Interview with Malawi’s Israeli MP

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

An Israeli in an African parliament? It sounds bizarre, but it’s true. Malawi, a small landlocked country in southeast Africa (population: 17 million), counts exactly two whites in its 193-member parliament. One of them is 50-year-old David Yakov Bisnowaty, a former IDF soldier and the son of a Holocaust survivor.

While here in New York last week for the opening of the UN General Assembly’s 71st session, Bisnowaty, who is married with three children, spoke to The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: What’s your background?

Bisnowaty: My father worked as a mechanical engineer for a big multinational company, which sent him to Africa. So I was born in Israel but grew up in Kenya. And when you grow up in Africa, you have a bond with Africa.

Eventually I went back to Israel and served in the Israeli army. But later I returned to Africa and lived in South Africa. Then, in 1993, I found myself on a business strip to Malawi and fell in love with the place. So I decided to move there, and since then I’ve probably been the single largest investor in Malawi. I have a pharmaceutical factory which manufactures generic drugs – it’s the biggest pharmaceutical factory in Malawi – and I also distribute medical equipment to hospitals.

How did you wind up in Malawi’s parliament?

I entered politics in 2014 because I felt something had to be done. What triggered me was nearly running over a young boy with my car. He was licking the road because he had spilled the food he was carrying, and my heart broke. I couldn’t believe poverty was so bad that people had to lick the road just to get a little bit of food. So I told my family, “I’m going to enter politics to help the poor Malawians.”

Everybody said, “You’re crazy. A white man, a Jew, a non-indigenous person, is going to be elected a member of parliament? You’ll never make it.”

But I ran against 11 other contestants and won by an overwhelming majority. I became the first Jewish member of parliament in Malawi for the biggest constituency, which is Lilongwe, the capital of the country. I serve close to a million people.

Are you the only Jew serving in a parliament on the continent of Africa (excluding South Africa)?

According to the information I have, yes.

As a member of Malawi’s parliament, what causes do you try to advance?

I have many projects. We just passed a marriage bill that a young girl cannot marry before the age of 18. That was a big success. I also was able to get running water for 23 villages in my area. The women in these villages used to go to the stream to collect water, which they then brought home on their heads. Now they have tap water next to their homes. So that for me is a big success story.

I’m also advocating for democracy. We have democracy obviously, but Africa got it quite late [so it needs improvement]. I also fight corruption. It’s not easy and it will take time, but that is one of my struggles as well. Finally, I focus heavily on education. I believe that if we educate the people, Malawi will change.

What do people in Malawi think of Jews in general and Israel specifically?

Israel was one of the countries that assisted Malawi from the time it got its independence [in the late 1960s]. It sent doctors and others to help Malawi, so the ties between the two countries have been very strong since then.

Regarding Jews: I don’t see any anti-Semitism in Malawi. People actually love that I’m a Jew. They see me as a businessman who didn’t go into politics because of money but because of ideology, because of love for the country. I think they have more trust in me for that reason; they believe that I’m genuinely coming to help them.

In general, they believe the Jewish people are blessed and are here for a purpose by G-d. People in Malawian villages actually say [about me], “G-d has sent us the Jew from Judah to help us.” And that might be why I ended up in Malawi. If you believe in God – and I do believe in Him – then [surely] I didn’t end up in Malawi for nothing.

Are there any Jews in Malawi besides you and your family?

No, unfortunately we’re the only ones.

If you wanted to observe Judaism in Malawi, are there any resources at all to do so?

We keep a kosher home in Malawi; we get our meat from South Africa. I’m not very religious but I keep the tradition, so this Rosh Hashanah, for example, I will be spending in South Africa where I have a house that is close to a shul.

Why do you have a house there?

It’s for my daughter, who is more frum and teaching in a Jewish school in South Africa. So she uses the house, and then when I come down to South Africa, I use it as well.

What’s the official language of Malawi?

English. They have a local language – Chichewa – but the official language is English.

What’s next for you?

I plan to run for at least another term when this one concludes in 2019. After that, God knows.

Elliot Resnick

‘What America Can Learn from Israel’: An Interview with Author and Commentator Pete Hegseth

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

Those who love America often love Israel as well. Pete Hegseth is in a singular position to appreciate the shared uniqueness of the two countries.

A military veteran who holds two Bronze Stars and a Combat Infantryman Badge for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan, he is a former CEO of the Concerned Veterans for America and a former chairman of Vets for Freedom as well as a graduate of Princeton University with a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Hegseth writes regularly for National Review and FoxNews.com in addition to being a Fox News contributor and analyst. His new book, “In the Arena,” is an ardent plea for citizen commitment in an era of apathy. And it is an apt description of Hegseth’s enthusiasm as he eagerly entered the arena of Israel advocacy on his recent fact-finding mission to Israel attended by this reporter and organized by Dr. Joseph Frager, Dr. Paul Brody, and Odelya Jacobs.


The Jewish Press: What can you tell us about your background and how it influenced your relationship with Israel?

Hegseth: My parents come from a small town in Minnesota where I grew up as a Baptist. I never met a Jewish person until I went to college. When I did, the first thing I said to him was, “I read about you in the Bible!” It was from there and beyond that I gained a true understanding of Jews. Growing up an evangelical, I obviously had an enormous amount of respect and understanding of the historical resonance of Abraham and religions and how they’re intertwined.

After being in the military and having served in Iraq, I saw other views of the world and started to understand where Israel fits and where anti-Semitism comes from; how it is fostered in higher education and how lack of support for Israel is very indicative of other things. Through meeting wonderful people like Joe [Frager] and leaders in the senate and government, I have come to really appreciate the Jewish heritage and the Jewish state. I understand how geopolitically we are linked and how critical it is that we stand by such a strong ally.

From the perspective of a news commentator, how important is telling Israel’s story in the media?

I learned from serving in the Iraq war that you can’t refute what’s happening on the ground. Truth prevails. But it’s a matter of punching through the overwhelming wet blanket of the leftist mainstream media. I served in Iraq in 2005-2006. I came home from my tour during what looked like the darkest, most difficult days in Iraq in 2006, when the antiwar movement was at its height and when everyone said the war was inevitably going to fail. Yes, there were a lot of problems, but I saw seeds of progress. I saw that we could turn the corner with the right strategy and enough troops. I came back and led an advocacy group to make the case for a new counter insurgency strategy and more troops on the ground. Just so happened that we had a president at that moment who thankfully decided to do the exact same thing.

That taught me that even the overwhelming weight of the predictions by The New York Times and others that we were going to lose can be overcome by a concentrated view backed by a dedicated mission and the willingness to speak truth and then amplify it. But you’ve got to have people in the media and on the ground willing to amplify it. Because you can win on the ground, but if you’re not telling that story at home people will be seduced into whatever storyline they’re being told by news broadcasts and websites. You got to get the facts first so that you can beat the spin second.

Israel faces an unconventional enemy in the form of isolation through BDS, lawfare, campus intimidation, etc. With your background in the media and the military, what would you recommend to best fight this enemy?

There has been a long history of bipartisan support for Israel in the United States and I would want that to be the case now. Unfortunately, it’s become much more of a partisan issue. We have given away so many of our educational institutions that the next generation of citizens and voters in our country are not fortified with the basic beliefs and building blocks of previous generations. That is a scary thing and it makes what I do at Fox that much more important as we attempt to educate the next generation.

There are seeds of anti-Semitism that are still found in higher education. We’re taught about tolerance and safe spaces on college campuses except for things like anti-Semitism. We have to provide and support alternative viewpoints regarding Israel on campuses. We need veterans – who have actually seen the enemy and understand what our allies look like and what they’re facing – to articulate it throughout our institutions. We have to be more willing to publicly talk about Israel among citizens who think of it as an abstraction, who don’t truly understand the existential threat to it. And what can Israel do? Keep bringing more Americans to Israel in order to truly understand it and then they can go back to the U.S. as spokesmen. The more groups that can bring Americans here – evangelical Christians, Republicans, Democrats, Jews – the better. Because seeing is understanding.

How does seeing biblical and historical facts on the ground in Israel impact your impressions of the Holy Land?

It reaffirms the ties the Jewish people have to this land that have historical and real geopolitical resonance today. This is not some mystical land that can be dismissed. It’s the story of God’s chosen people. That story didn’t end in 1776 or in 1948 or with the founding of the UN. All of these things still resonate and matter today.

The facts on the ground and the truth of what actually happened can settle debates. It’s just a matter of affirming it. Because if you can rewrite history you can rewrite anything. If you can prove and demonstrate something, that changes the discussion completely.

Sara Lehmann

Fighting Israel’s Battle Online An Interview with Influential Blogger: ‘Elder of Ziyon’

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

On March 1, “Elder of Ziyon” – the anonymous author behind www.ElderofZiyon.blogspot.com – posted a map from a McGraw Hill college textbook purporting to show “Palestinian loss of land 1946 to 2000.” Considering that Jews were often called “Palestinians” before 1948, and that Palestinian Arabs – as a “nation” – never owned any territory until Israel carved out autonomous regions for them in 1993, the map was highly misleading.

Elder of Ziyon demanded that McGraw Hill “be held accountable for pushing such propaganda in college classrooms” and called on his readers to e-mail the publisher. Remarkably, within a week, McGraw Hill had removed the book from circulation and promised to destroy all remaining copies.

It is victories like these, and many smaller ones, that motivate Elder of Ziyon – the name is “meant to be ironic,” he says – to continue blogging daily, as he has for over 12 years.


The Jewish Press: Why do you blog under an alias?

Elder of Ziyon: I’m not worried about death threats or anything like that. The main reason is professional. I work in a high-tech industry and it doesn’t help my career potential to use my real name. For any future jobs, people would see my name and think I’m not doing any work – that I blog all day.

Do you?

No. I blog early in the morning, on the train to work, and often before I go to bed.

There is no shortage of pro-Israel websites and blogs. Why the need for your site?

A lot of the analysis I do, I don’t see anybody else doing. For example, there was a report the other week that 51 percent of Palestinians support a two-state solution. Instead of just reading the news story, though, I took the time to look up the actual questions of the survey and noticed one of the questions they didn’t report on. The question was: Would you support a two-state solution if it meant the conflict was completely over and no more claims could be made?

To that question, the vast majority of Palestinians said “No.” And I was able to relate that to an earlier survey that showed that when Palestinians say they want a two-state solution, they only mean that as a stage to the entire destruction of Israel.

How many readers do you have?

I get about 250,000 readers, or hits, a month. And I have influential readers too. Sometimes, for example, Tablet magazine or Commentary will see my stories and run with them.

Where do you get your news stories?

Many of them come from Arabic sites. Every day I look for certain key words in Arab media that might indicate an interesting story. I don’t know Arabic, but I use Google Translate – which I’ve gotten good at over the years – and I’ll [confirm translations] with experts in Arabic if the story looks very important.

Occasionally I just post material that other people might not have seen. For example, the other night I posted a link to the Israel Air Force website, which had a piece on the 50th anniversary of Operation Yahalom in which the Mossad helped an Iraqi defect to Israel with a Soviet MiG-21 fighter jet [an operation that eventually helped Israel win the Six-Day War]. It was on the IAF site for two weeks, but I didn’t see anybody else cover it.

Many of these stories I find on my own, but others come from fans of the site. When they see something unusual, they’ll send it to me. That’s how I got the story of the [anti-Israel map in the] McGraw Hill textbook. One of my contacts saw it over somebody’s shoulder on the subway and told me about it.

What would you say are some of the highlights of your 12-year blogging career?

One of them came during the 2012 war Operation Pillar of Defense. Two times during that war there were stories of children killed by Israeli rockets and both of those times I was able to prove, with the help of military experts, that it was actually Hamas rockets that killed them. One of the children was actually the kid of a BBC reporter.

Another highlight was revealing that Human Rights Watch researcher Marc Garlasco was actually a connoisseur and collector of Nazi memorabilia. It was a joint effort of several bloggers but I got the original tip. And once we started publicizing the news, Human Rights Watch, in its attempt to defend him, ended up doing what’s called “sock puppetry,” which means they started commenting on all these blogs pretending to be ordinary people even though we saw that the IP address was coming from Human Rights Watch. That of course made the story additionally interesting. In the end, Garlasco had to resign.

Probably the biggest story I broke, though, was about an NGO called MIFTAH founded by Hanan Ashrawi, who’s always on TV blasting Israel as a representative of the PLO. Her organization had articles in Arabic supporting terrorism and claiming that Jews were killing Christian children to use their blood for matzah. This is a well-known Western human rights organization – an NGO – that gets money from major Western governments. So the story became very big, and in the end they had to apologize.

What’s next for you?

I would love to make the stuff I write more permanent. I want to put together more of a reference-type website; there’s a lot of information on my site, but I need to make it easier for people to find things and use it as a resource.

I also started writing a book about the supposed Palestinian right of return. I was doing an analysis – both historic and legal – to see if there’s any merit whatsoever to the claim because I’m very concerned that even if there’s a peace plan one day, people will use this right of return as their next step in delegitimizing Israel. So I want to make sure all the history and legal arguments about it are known ahead of time.

I have lots of ideas and lots of things I’d love to do, but it requires more resources, more funding, and partnership. I’m really hoping to be able to take this to the next level.

Elliot Resnick

150,000 Jewish Books In 50 Languages: An Interview with Bibliophile Israel Mizrahi

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

For some, he evokes a bygone age – when sefarim store owners lived and breathed books and could direct customers to (and discuss) a rare Yiddish work just as easily as the latest ArtScroll title.

Israel Mizrahi, though, is a young man of 29. And, unlike sefarim store owners of yore, he earns half his profits online where patrons can view and buy any one of 36,000 volumes, ranging in price from $2.99 to $3,299.99. (He carries a total of 150,000 works in his Flatbush store.)

The scion of several rabbinic families – he is named after the Baba Sali, his grandfather’s uncle – Mizrahi lives with his wife and three children in Brooklyn.


The Jewish Press: What’s your background?

Mizrahi: I grew up locally in Brooklyn, went to community schools, learned in yeshiva in Chevron for three years, and got married while I was in Israel. Six days later, I was back in the United States and soon found myself with some bills to pay. I owned a lot of books, so I sold a few. But it’s always easier to buy than to sell and before I knew it I had 20,000 books. So I was stuck.

Can you talk a bit about your rabbinic family background?

My mother is part of the Abuhatzeira family, so that sort of speaks for itself, and my father comes from rabbinic families in Syria and Yerushalayim.

It’s a bit of a conflicting background in the sense that my mother’s side was more of the kabbalistic, pious type and my father’s side was more of the rationalist, Maimonidean type. My great great-grandfather, for example, wrote a classic book called Kenesiya L’shem Shamayim, which is a treatise against belief in superstition, magic, sheidim – things like that. Jews in Syria at the time were following Muslim practices and basically makrivim to avoda zara, so the book is a very strong attack against any such beliefs.

Your store carries books in how many languages, would you say?

Probably around 50, but I try to focus on about 10 of them: Hebrew, English, Yiddish, German, French, Spanish, Russian, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic.

I also have a very large collection of books in Judeo-Marathi, which is the language of the Bnei Israel community in India; I have quite a few books in Judeo-Persian; and I even have a book in Judeo-Tatar, which is the language the Jews of Crimea spoke.

What are some of the most interesting books you’ve sold over the years?

Books that interest me the most are ones that tell a story. So, for example, I have an old selichos volume printed in Germany in which somebody handwrote a very long kinah about a pogrom that happened in Poland in the 1620s. He describes in detail how the children were killed, the women raped, etc. If you look in the history books, though, there’s no record of this specific pogrom. The only source we have for it is this sefer, which happened to survive and end up in my hands.

You apparently used to also carry the Koran in Hebrew.

Israeli President Rivlin’s grandfather did the first translation. There are seven of them in total. You also have a fellow, Professor Abraham Katsch, who did a translation. He was a grandson of the Maskil L’Eitan, and his father was Rav Reuven Katz, the rav of Petach Tikva. They both came from rabbinic backgrounds and ended up professors.

What other interesting books do you carry?

When you acquire 100,000 books a year, everything shows up eventually. I just acquired an old yearbook from the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School and found among the students a smiling Sheldon Silver.

Elliot Resnick

God, Evolution, And Darwin: An Interview with Molecular Biologist Douglas Axe

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

“Religion vs. science” conflicts are generally depicted in popular culture as battles between narrow-minded bigots and tolerant truth-seekers. From the Galileo Affair to the Scopes Monkey Trial, religious authoritarians are cast as the force of darkness attempting to stifle the light of science.

In recent decades, though, this narrative has arguably been turned on its head. Instead of religious authorities persecuting free thinkers, today, more often than not, it is “free” thinkers who persecute believers who dare challenge the popular consensus on such hot-button issues as evolution or global warming.

Douglas Axe, director of the Biologic Institute in Seattle, knows this first-hand. As a post-doctoral researcher at the prestigious Medical Research Council Centre in Cambridge in 2002, he was experimenting on protein structures when his superiors discovered that his research was being funded in part by an intelligent design organization. The science was solid – he later published his findings in a prestigious journal – but his association with intelligent design was considered unacceptable. He was asked to leave.

In his first book, “Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed” (HarperOne) – published two weeks ago – Axe recounts his experiences at the Medical Research Council Centre and presents his objections to the theory of evolution as it currently stands.

Axe holds a PhD from Caltech and has published in such scientific journals as Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Journal of Molecular Biology. He recently spoke with The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: You write in Undeniable that you harbored doubts about evolution even as a college student. What were those doubts?

Axe: I perceived there to be a deep contradiction between the materialist worldview – which is the idea that everything is matter and energy – and our notion of human free will. If we are nothing but large machines made out of atoms and molecules, all of which are slaves to the laws of physics, how is it that we can decide to do this or do that?

You write that you were convinced at the time that if you could prove the evolutionary theory was flawed, scientists would be forced to agree since they value truth above all. You now say you were naïve to believe this. Please explain.

It’s a utopian view of science. It’s this idea that although scientists have their own personal preferences, when they put on their white lab coats they’re ultimately about the truth – and nothing else – and if their theories are proven wrong they will concede. But scientists are 100 percent human, and all the things that other humans find hard – like admitting you’re wrong – are hard for scientists. Also, scientists survive in their profession by getting the approval of other scientists, so that gives rise to peer pressure.

You write that philosophical hindrances might also be holding scientists back from acknowledging the flaws with evolution.

Yes. I start the book with the question “Where did we come from?” and lay out the two possibilities: Either we’re cosmic accidents or we’re the product of purpose. If we’re cosmic accidents, we basically end up with this nihilistic position – that there is no moral right and wrong and we’re here today and gone tomorrow, so live how you want to live. But if that’s false and instead we’re a product of purpose and intent [conceived by a Creator], then you have a completely different view of who we are as human beings and how we ought to live our lives.

Elliot Resnick

‘At The End Of The Day, We Only Have Each Other’: An Interview with Israeli Consulate Spokesperson Shimon Mercer-Wood

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

Shimon Mercer-Wood is the spokesperson and consul for media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Manhattan. A product of the London School of Economics and Yeshivat Ma’aleh Gilboa, Mercer-Wood previously served as political officer at Israel’s embassy in New Delhi and press officer at Israel’s embassy in London. 

The Jewish Press: What’s your background?

Mercer-Wood: My mother’s family is from Transylvania, which is Hungarian-speaking Romania, and my father’s family is from Ghana in West Africa. My father’s uncle was the ambassador of Ghana to Israel in the 1960s, and he brought along my father with him.

Why did he bring your father?

They were very close. Also, in that part of Ghana, it’s actually a matrilineal society, which means the person you inherit is not your father, but your mother’s brother. So as part of his being groomed to take over from his uncle, he went with him and was kind of like his protégé.

And then your father stayed in Israel?

In 1967, on the eve of the Six-Day war, Ghana’s embassy was ordered to evacuate because everyone was sure Israel was going to be destroyed. In Israel they were preparing mass graves in the public parks because they thought there would be, chas v’shalom, many casualties, and in Holland they were preparing refugee camps.

But my father had developed an interest in Judaism and felt it was disloyal to abandon the Jewish people in a time of danger, so he stayed in Israel. And then my father got swept up by the very obvious miracle of Israel going from the brink of peril to unprecedented victory in such a short time. So my father stayed in Israel, converted, joined the army, and has basically been in Israel ever since.

It’s quite a story.

Apart from it being my personal family story, though, it also speaks to Israel’s relationship with Africa in that time. Israel was a huge player in the African continent in the 1960s. This was part of Golda Meir’s policy to find friends around the world and to fulfill the aspiration of being an ohr la’goyim. So Israel was very active in introducing modern agriculture to Africa. In fact, Israel at that time had more embassies in Africa than any other non-African country. The relationship was so close that when my uncle was shifted from the Ghana Embassy in China to the Ghana Embassy in Israel, it was considered a major promotion.

What do you do at the Israeli consulate in Manhattan?

We try to introduce positive material about Israel into the media output, and I would divide that into three “battles.” The first battle is to engage with those journalists who write primarily about the Israeli-Arab conflict and provide them with information that may help them be more sympathetic to the Israeli position.

The second battle is to provide stories to journalists who are interested in writing about Israel. So, for example, we met a producer at one of the news channels who said, “I want stories about Israeli startups. Please feed me with stories.” Our job then is to seek out such stories – be in touch with relevant authorities and hubs in Israel – and build up story pitches.

The third battle, which is the most interesting, is to reach those journalists who don’t even think about writing about Israel, and introduce Israel to them. Recently, for example, we sent a journalist to Israel to cover a conference on accessibility – especially how to make tourism more accessible for people with disabilities. This is a writer to whom it would never have occurred to write a story about Israel. But she came back from that conference very enthusiastic, and it was a huge success. It’s very gratifying to find someone like that and put Israel on their radar in such a positive context.

I should add that we place a special emphasis on Jewish media, because the most important asset this building is charged with safeguarding is the relationship between Israel and American Jews. I very often meet people who adore Israel but their conception of Israel is kind of what Israel was like in the 1980s. Israel is a very dynamic place – it’s constantly changing – and it’s important for me to make sure people see Israel as it is today.

Why is this important?

Because we’re one nation, we’re one people. At the end of the day, on the face of the planet, we only have each other. And just like you keep in touch with your brother who lives in another city and you want him to know what’s happening in your life and you don’t want his perception of your life to be stuck like when you were in college, it’s important for the different components of the Jewish nation to know what the others are going through. It’s not because you want their “support.” It’s because that’s what it means to be one people.

Those who dislike Israel sometimes call it racist. When you speak to such people, do you find your skin color helpful in combating this argument?

There’s a spectrum of anti-Israel attitudes. On the light side you have ignorance, and in that case perhaps it helps. But further along the spectrum, there is entrenched hostility to Israel, and then nothing helps because they don’t really care. It’s not about knowledge or understanding. It’s an emotional issue. It’s a feeling of commitment to a struggle against Israel. And you can really see it physically when you speak to these people, how much their whole being is fired up with attacking Israel.

So I don’t bother arguing with them, because a) they don’t deserve it and b) it’s completely pointless. We really should focus our efforts on those who don’t have that level of hatred. I often hear people say, “Show them the facts!” They don’t care about the facts. They operate in a cultural sphere in which facts are of no importance. It’s part of a certain brand of post-modern mode of thought that says that everything is subjective and relative, and facts are just not important.

What’s Israel’s opinion of Donald Trump?

It’s important to understand that Israel has a relationship with the United States that exceeds the relationship with the president of the United States. So it sounds like a talking point but it’s actually true: Whoever the American people elect, Israel will be happy to work with because they will be elected by the American people.

What’s very important, though, is that the political relationship between Israel and the United States remain bipartisan. There are people in America – on both sides of the political spectrum – who are trying to undermine the bipartisan nature of this relationship for their own political reasons. These people don’t have Israel’s best interests in mind.

Several media outlets have reported that Bernie Sanders’s supporters hope to amend the Democratic Party’s platform so that it is less pro-Israel or even anti-Israel. Is Israel concerned?

I’m not going to comment on anything a particular politician is doing, but in general the attempt to make Israel a divisive issue is exactly what I was talking about before. Israel shouldn’t be a divisive issue.

I also think that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not an Israel thing. It’s a Jewish thing. When someone wants to remove reference to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, they are trying to erase one of the most fundamental features of the Jewish heritage. You want to criticize Israel, go ahead. But if you erase reference to Jerusalem as our capital you’re insulting every Jew who has ever lived.

Syria is currently a mess. What are Israel’s hopes for the conclusion of that conflict?

Israel’s policy on Syria is that we don’t care who rules them, how they are ruled, what sort of government they have, etc. It’s none of our business. We just want to be left alone.

But the prime minister has laid down three red lines. First, anyone who shoots at us, we shoot back. Second, we will not allow Syria to become a conduit for advanced weaponry reaching Hizbullah in Lebanon. And third, we’re not going to allow anyone to build an infrastructure that can be used to threaten Israel in the future. So if we see someone building a terrorist network, the purpose of which is to threaten Israel, something may happen to that person. According to certain reports, these things have happened in the past and they will continue to happen so long as there are people who want to use Syria as a base for attacking Israel.

I have to add that on a human level it’s very sad to see such unspeakable suffering, and we try to extend humanitarian aid wherever we can. There’s an Israeli NGO called IsraAID which set up shop on the island of Lesvos in Greece giving medical care to refugees. Other Israeli NGOs are providing food and supplies in refugee camps in Jordan.

How is Israel dealing with Russia’s interests in Syria?

It’s a very complicated issue. Our interests in Syria do not correlate with Russia’s. Russia wants to keep Assad in power. Keeping Assad in power means strengthening Iran’s influence and presence – which is the main threat to us. And the Russians are also fighting shoulder to shoulder with Hizbullah which is one of our main enemies. So our interests do not correlate. Having said that, Israel and Russia share enough interests elsewhere and on other levels that we both have the motivation to make sure the conflicting interest don’t become a direct conflict.

What “other interests” are you referring to?

First of all, it’s interesting to note that Russia sees Israel as a special case on account of its huge population of Russian Jews. I remember meeting the Russian ambassador in Israel, and he said, “Since I’ve come to Israel, my English has deteriorated because from the supermarket to the president, everyone speaks to me in Russian.” So they feel there’s an important link there, and I think that makes for a different attitude.

I won’t go into too many details, but there are other issues on which Israel and Russia cooperate so that both countries wish to maintain cordial relations.

What’s Israel’s current policy toward Iran? Are we now beyond the point where destroying Iran’s nuclear program is possible?

Israel’s fundamental policy hasn’t changed. We will take every means necessary to make sure Iran doesn’t get nuclear weapons. What has happened is that because of the Iran deal, the crunch time – the point at which you have to make a decision – has been pushed off by a few years. But when we reach that crunch time again, I have no doubt that the prime minister of Israel will not hesitate to act.

Elliot Resnick

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