December 9, 2004
New Israeli Consul Arrives in L.A.
For a man who is celebrating his 34th birthday this month, Ehud Danoch, Israel's new consul general, introduces himself with an impressive resume.
He has an insider's knowledge of his country's domestic, economic and foreign affairs, is a lawyer, holds a master's degree in business administration and knows all the right people in the Israeli government and bureaucracy. He also has an advantage as a fluent speaker in this region's two primary languages, English and Spanish, and he can also get by in French.
Danoch's arrival in Los Angeles in October as Israel's top representative in Southern California, seven southwestern states and Hawaii was slightly delayed by the birth of his now 3-month-old daughter, Daphna, to his wife, Michal.
To start at the beginning, Danoch's grandparents arrived in Israel in 1950 as part of Operation Magic Carpet, the mass airlift of Jews from Yemen, bringing with them their 3-year-old son, who became the consul general's father. Danoch himself was born in Ashkelon. Both of Danoch's parents were tapped by Israel's Ministry of Education to serve as overseas shlichim, or envoys. As a result, young Ehud spent three years in Montevideo, Uruguay's capital, and a subsequent three years in Montreal.
After three years of army service, Danoch caught up on his education, earning his law degree and MBA from the Israeli campus of Britain's Manchester University. He practiced law for a brief time, but started his government career in 2001, when then Finance Minister Silvan Shalom picked the young attorney as his senior adviser. The position gave Danoch a crash course in Israel's economy and government.
"Every ministry had to come and make a case for its annual budget requests," he said during an interview in his Wilshire Boulevard office. "That way you really get to see how the system works."
In addition, Danoch served as the finance ministry's liaison with the prime minister's office, Knesset, and all other ministries -- an unparalleled opportunity for network building.
Two years later, when Shalom was named foreign minister, he took his adviser with him and made him the ministry's chief of staff.
In the new job, Danoch said, he managed the staff, accompanied Shalom on his foreign trips and was deeply involved in policy decisions, ranging from the "road map," security fence and, most recently, to Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
When the consul general's post in Los Angeles became vacant, Shalom exercised his political appointment power -- outside the regular foreign ministry career service -- to name his chief of staff to the job.
Danoch succeeds the popular Yuval Rotem, who innovated many programs during his five-year tenure here. However, Danoch will have one advantage over his predecessor in his close personal ties to Shalom, which Rotem lacked.
"Having a close relationship with the foreign minister and knowing the people and the system is an advantage," Danoch said. "I think that allows me to be quite effective, to the benefit of the community here."
Danoch's own appointment is for two years, with an option for a one-year extension, and he says he is eager to get started.
He plans to continue and expand the consulate's outreach to the Latino and other ethnic and religious communities, established by Rotem, and will work closely with his current economic, political and cultural aides to reinforce ties with his many constituencies.
"Before I came to Los Angeles, I met with Prime Minister Sharon, who stressed the importance of the Jewish community here," Danoch said. "I want to hug the very diverse parts of the Jewish people in this city and region and I will ask the help of the most creative minds."
A close Israeli observer of the foreign ministry and a friend of Danoch has described the new consul general as "a good man, very smart, very young and very political."
Given Danoch's close personal and political ties to Shalom, a Likud stalwart considered to the right of Sharon, Danoch was asked whether his ideological orientation might affect his relations with the predominantly liberal Jewish community in Los Angeles.
"I am not a member of any party," he said. "I represent the State of Israel, not any partisan group. As consul general, I will pay equal attention to all Jewish organizations."
In light of his professional background, Danoch is particularly interested in boosting economic ties between California and Israel.
"Investments in Israel has been strong, even during the last four years of the intifada, and there are even more opportunities now," he said. "I will be personally available to assist investors with information and to facilitate their dealings with my government."
Another priority is tourism, both as an economic factor and to show foreigners the "other side" of Israel, beyond headlines of terrorist attacks and Israeli army forays.
"What I want to see is that if any vacationer comes to a travel agent and asks about a nice sunny resort, that agent can talk about Caribbean islands or Spain, but he will also mention Eilat."
Another of Danoch's concern will be the local entertainment industry, whose lack of outspoken support or presence in Israel has frustrated many of his predecessors, but the new consul general is understandably cautious.
"Everybody knows that Hollywood is important," he said. "But before I jump in, I want to talk to the people and find out how Hollywood works."
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