An Interview with Israel’s Consul General
Jlife: It is wonderful to see you again… it has been a while. I am excited that you will come to our community on Monday, May 15, for a special Town Hall meeting. Before we get into this event and other questions I have for you, I thought it would be a good idea to begin the interview with the following question—What does a Consul General do?
Dr. Hillel Newman: Many people are not usually aware of what the term Consul General means. Once a country opens up a mission in another country, if it’s in the capital, it’s called their embassy. This was established in the laws of the diplomatic services that were described in Vienna. However, if they open up an additional mission in the same country, they can’t call it embassy #2; it’s called the consulate general. And the head of the mission is called the Consul General. He does the same work as an ambassador: political networking, economic activity, community outreach, etc. The LA consulate covers seven states (Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Southern California) which is quite a wide area of the United States. Part of our job is to network politically and represent Israel. In the last year, we worked with 75% of our region’s elected officials, mostly at the Federal level and including six of our states Governors. In fact, we took two of them to Israel. We also worked on commerce and economic projects, cultural activities, along with community outreach like a project we did in West Hollywood.
Jlife: What is the purpose of these meetings and participating in these projects? Are they only about developing relationships?
D.N.: Well, you know the Israelis think that we are here for the Israelis. And Jews think we are here for the Jewish community. In reality, the main objective is to develop bilateral relationships and reach as many people as possible in a positive manner to reinforce the good relationship between Israel and the United States. So how do you do that? We do it at all top-level political networking, outreach through social media, and even billboards that people read on the street. We try to reach out to whoever we can. We also do work with different ethnic communities. We’ve built computer hubs for African-American and Latino communities. We sponsored a large mural for the Asian American community to show our support following the attacks that targeted them. We’ve worked with churches and schools, and the list goes on. We’re trying to reach as many people as possible, and it is through this relationship and coalition building that I feel we are making a difference.
Jlife: Along those same lines, so much of what most people know about Israel is what they see or read in the media. Quite often, all of the other work Israel is doing goes unnoticed. What do you wish more people better understood about Israel?
D.N.: You mean, besides the truth? First of all the fact that because of the slanted headlines, people perceive as if there’s a gap between progressive values in the state of Israel. It is nothing further from the truth. Israel is a leader in progressive values, and it always has been from the beginning, including women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and others. The other aspect, I would say, is Israel’s contribution to the world, especially around innovation today. We are such a small country that has only been a nation for 75 years, I mean, we go back in time, but the newly reestablished Israel is 75 years old. What we have coming out of Israel today, the world contributions we are making, are way beyond our proportion in the global community. This innovation touches every aspect of life today, from mobility to smart cities to water, agriculture, and health. Everything is impacted by innovation. Israel is a global leader in all of these aspects—so much comes out of Israel, so much energy, innovation and creativity. And I think that’s also an aspect I would hope people knew about more. You know Israel has enemies, and you look at these enemies, what is their contribution? Their contribution is just death and devastation, and Israel brings life. Israel brings advancement and development.
Jlife: You have been in your position for just over three-and-a-half years; what have been your favorite memories?
D.N.: Now you hear noise very often, voices full of criticism and poisonous atmosphere, but they are not the mainstream. So I think that was warming to me to see. Secondly, you hear a lot about the criticism of Israel, especially from the Reform (or progressive) community, and yet, from my experience, this has been positive—I haven’t come across anyone who refuses to meet or discuss the issues.
We have no problem with criticism, except when it crosses over red lines like BDS efforts or those that don’t support the existence of the state of Israel or call for a one-state solution instead of Israel. Thankfully, for the most part, these are not the mainstream views… just peripheral forces. So that warms my heart.
Another good memory is the network of over 180 Christian pastors we brought together—many of who do not belong to a larger organization. We brought them together, and they are now working with us.
Jlife: As the leader of a Jewish organization, what should Jewish leaders be doing to try to shift where American Jewry is today?
D.N.: Everyone says education. Of course, education is extremely important, and we know the costs, I think we need to bring Judaism to every child. How do you do that? That’s an issue that many minds have been tackling, but I think it needs to be a higher priority. I also think the connection with Israel is not less important. And statistics show that anyone who has a positive connection, any kind of connection with Israel, there is a high correlation through that connection. Israel instills Jewish identity. So I would say that I think leadership should cultivate those two things—increased education and connections with Israel. If you can’t bring everybody to Israel, then at least have a connection with Israel. Oh, and create opportunities for exposure to Jewish culture. That’s another way.
Jlife: When your family leaves Southern California, what will you miss most?
D.N.: Besides the weather, I would say… Look, I’m a nature lover and this area’s natural landscape is amazing. I will miss the coast. I wish I could go up and down the coast every week. I will miss the parks—Yosemite, Zion… there is so much beauty in America. America is an amazing country. In my region alone, there is so much diversity—from the cultures and people’s attitudes to what is important to them, even the architecture. I think seeing all of this is what I will miss most.
Jlife: Any idea what your future plans are after your time as Consul General is done this summer?
D.N.: Some of my predecessors left the ministry after Los Angeles, because not many positions can top Los Angeles. And the ones that are seen as more desirable, I will be competing with like 20 others who want it. So, I am not sure yet what I want to do. Plus, if I decide to stay in the Foreign Ministry, I may not have a say in where I go. I could get another assignment in North America, or it could be somewhere in Latin America or Europe. So, I am not quite sure yet what I want to do.
Jlife: Well, I appreciate all you have helped do for our local Jewish community. Thank you for taking the time to share these thoughts with me and my community today and I look forward to doing this again with you on May 15 for the Town Hall Meeting.