Earlier this year, the American Zionist Movement and World Zionist Organization marked Women’s History Month with an event entitled “FeminIsrael.” The day highlighted the achievements of Israeli women in high tech, academia, and non-profit (commonly referred to as the third sector). Many of the attendees came to show their support for the event’s moderator, Farhana Rahman, Director for Communications for Israeli Start-Up Z-Cast and proud advocate for Israel. Farhana is not how one would imagine the typical defender of Israel; she defies any labels and is a unique voice in the discussion on Israel.
This native New Yorker, and proud Muslim, is a veteran in the Israeli Start-Up ecosystem. Her expertise in marketing and communications made it natural for her to launch TechShmooze, her own online marketing agency servicing early-stage Israeli startups by employing local team members who intend to make aliyah.
Farhana grew up in a heavily Jewish neighborhood and has adopted Jewish culinary traditions in her own repertoire. She can make a challah that would be the envy of any Jewish household, having proudly mastered the six- and nine-braid. “If I were on a deserted island and could only eat one thing, it would be cholent,” she says and cites the rainbow of cultures she grew up with as being crucial to her upbringing. “New York has incredible diversity, we’re more accepting here,” she explains. “The Zionism and Jewish culture isn’t anything new. I just grew up with it through neighbors and friends.”
“I was my parents’ firstborn and also a girl, and everyone raised me to be extra-delicate and sensitive. I wasn’t always ready to speak my thoughts because I had to be a complete lady,” she says, laughing at her own description.
Of course, that attitude didn’t last long when she became acquainted with Sabra chutzpa. “As I started working with Israeli start-ups and representing them, I learned how to be assertive and how to speak my mind and how to not accept no for an answer. And that was something I really needed!”
Farhana also had to learn to handle the fierce debate and criticism so common in Israeli business meetings. Far from her days of demure demeanor, Farhana now smiles and says, “I hear the criticism and then I say, I heard you, now it’s my turn!” In fact, Farhana so enjoys her interactions with her Israeli clients that it is her specialty and her work consists entirely of Start-Up Nation clients. “It’s [reached] the point that if someone isn’t bold and typically Israeli, if I wasn’t getting those nosy questions, I would assume they simply don’t care enough.”
Farhana’s aren’t limited to dealing with Israelis in the Diaspora; she has enjoyed a number of trips to the Holy Land as well. Although Tel Aviv is her favorite city professionally, because of the “amazing people and start-ups,” Farhana admits her favorite city overall is Jerusalem.
“When you’re in Jerusalem, you’re really in Israel because you see [that] you’re surrounded by history. Jerusalem has history, amazing startups, great restaurants – it’s just filled with great things.”
Farhana may be a lover of Zion, but she has a refreshing humility about her contribution to highlighting Israel’s better side.
“When it comes to the Muslim world, I don’t think I bring Zionism to the Muslim world per se, because there are so many who are Zionists, but what I do is I give them the realization that they can label themselves as such. I receive literally thousands of messages from all over the world; there are tons of Muslims who are totally okay with Jews, understand that Jews deserve their homeland of Israel. They appreciate that Jews have done a lot for Israel from a productive sense, but they don’t realize that that ties in with Zionism. I’d say Muslims on a worldwide scale don’t understand the true meaning of Zionism because they keep seeing the word Zionism attached with violence. One thing I’ve done in the Muslim community is explain the beauty of Zionism. I started labeling myself a Muslim Zionist two years ago. Before that, I just considered myself a friend of Jews and Israel until I saw that all my beliefs completely tied into Zionism, and therefore I’m a Zionist. That’s something I’m teaching a lot of Muslims.”
My interview with Farhana couldn’t end without my asking what advice this master of public relations would give Israel to win hearts and minds. Israel has a good story but isn’t reaching people. What is wrong with us?
“There is nothing wrong with Israel or Israeli Jews. Jews who work for American media and who have never been to Israel are a large problem. They just write what they need to do to get their names out there, and are selfishly promoting the wrong material. They are not aware (and don’t care) about the consequences. Additionally, I can tell you based on my own experiences that there are often members of the Jewish community who respond to my efforts with skepticism and cynicism. That’s not how you encourage someone who is fighting for your side. Skeptics and cynics have no right to discourage bold Muslims, then go around saying that ‘the silence of peace-loving Muslims is deafening.’ If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. But I am proud to say that, for the most part, I am showered with boundless love and blessings.”
In contrast, Farhana plans to continue promoting the right material in the Israeli Start-Up scene and looks forward to going back to Israel to check out the Jerusalem Start-Up scene further and is also considering visiting the Beer Sheva tech-cluster.
With Farhana possessing poise and intelligence, the sky is the limit.