January 18, 2007
New faces and new places for Consuls General of Israel
A new Israeli consul general, Yaakov (Jacob) Dayan, will arrive in Los Angeles in November to succeed Ehud Danoch as his country's top diplomat in Southern California, five southwestern states and Hawaii.
At the same time, it was announced in Jerusalem that two Los Angeles alumni of the Israeli foreign service will assume high-ranking posts this summer.
Former Consul General Yuval Rotem has been named ambassador to Australia, and his former deputy, Zvi Vapni, ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines.
Dayan, 40, has served as chief of staff to both former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and present Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and most recently headed a study on possible diplomatic approaches to Syria.
He accompanied Shalom on two trips to Los Angeles in recent years and said he was looking forward to a longer stay in the city, together with his wife, Galit, and their three children.
"Los Angeles and this region are very important to Israel, so I take this as a huge challenge, but I know I will be working with a wonderful team at the consulate," Dayan said in a phone call from Jerusalem.
For Rotem, a popular figure during his five-year tenure in Los Angeles, the new appointment comes after a difficult two years in Israel, during which he was largely sidelined from active involvement in the Foreign Ministry.
Part of the reason was that Rotem, whose foreign service career had risen unusually fast, had to compete with other senior officials for the most desirable appointments and had a hard time finding the right slot, knowledgeable sources explained. During last year's conflict in Lebanon, he served as head of a liaison unit with United Nations and Lebanese officials, which, among other tasks, provided relief for the local population.
Rotem's new duties will take him to all parts of Australia and New Zealand, as well as Papua New Guinea and the Fiji Islands, Rotem said in a phone call from Jerusalem. Accompanying him will be his wife, Miri, and the two youngest of their children. His oldest son will be performing his military service.
Vapni's territory in the Philippines will cover 7,000 islands, and include a Jewish community of about 250 people, "quite a change from 500,000 in Los Angeles," he noted.
Currently on special assignment in Ireland, Vapni was in charge of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Israel, among other assignments. Joining him in Manila will be his wife, Limor, and their two young children.
The new diplomatic appointments partially represent routine reassignments, but also reflect a professional boost for career diplomats, following protracted labor negotiations within the Foreign Ministry and the appointment of Livni a year ago.
Up to last year, the government was able to make 11 "political" foreign service appointments, generally to the most prestigious jobs abroad. Now that number has been reduced to two, most likely for ambassadors to the United Nations and Washington, D.C.
Both the outgoing ambassador to the Philippines and the current consul general in Los Angeles were political appointments and are being replaced by career diplomats.
The Los Angeles post is considered one of the top assignments in the Israeli foreign service. Although the consul general here doesn't deal with relations between Israel and other nations, he (there has never been a female consul general in Los Angeles) plays a crucial role from the Israeli perspective.
"We see Los Angeles as one of the five most important assignments in the world," said Ido Aharoni, Livni's media adviser.
"The city's importance lies in its economic strength, the size and influence of the Jewish community, political clout, ethnic and religious diversity -- and, of course, Hollywood," Aharoni said in a phone interview.
"We have sent some of our best people to L.A.," he added. "Ehud Danoch has been doing an excellent job and Yaakov Dayan is a terrific diplomat."
Aharoni served in Los Angeles as consul for public affairs from 1994 to 1998. His wife, Julie, the mother of their three children, is the granddaughter of Lou Boyar, who was a legendary mover and shaker in the Los Angeles business and Jewish communities.
He endowed the Mae Boyar High School in Jerusalem in honor of his wife, and, to round the circle, Julie Aharoni is now a teacher at the school.
As Israel's top representative in this region, the consul general has always exerted a strong symbolic influence in the Los Angeles Jewish community, and his actual impact has varied according to his own priorities and changing circumstances.
Some of the earlier diplomats focused on the top Jewish leadership, encouraging philanthropic, business and tourism ties with Israel.
Rotem had a special interest in the city's diversity, establishing close ties with the Latino, African American and Christian communities.
Danoch, who will conclude his three-year term toward the end of 2007, has been particularly successful in enlisting Hollywood talent to visit Israel and supporting its cause in the media.
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