September 27, 2007
Danoch says ‘shalom’ to the Southland
Israel's consul general reflects on the highs and lows of three years as an Angeleno
One was how to make sense of a new community, including not only multiethnic Southern California, but also all the rest of the Southwestern states and Hawaii. Another was how to explain, defend and promote an Israel facing rapid political changes and external threats. And the third was how to be a first-time father.
Danoch and his wife, Miki, had had to delay their trip to the United States until their newborn daughter, Daphna, was old enough to travel.
Now, like a second bookend marking the end of their stint here, the Danochs once again have to postpone a departure, this time to allow their second child, due Oct. 2, to make the flight to Israel.
Last week, sitting in his high-rise Wilshire Boulevard office, which overlooks a stunning view of the city north to the Hollywood Hills, Danoch talked about the highlights and low points of his three-year tenure, the lessons learned, as well as his future plans to run for a seat in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. Impeccably dressed in a dark blue suit and tie, which is how he can be found even on hot days and during informal meetings, the slim and curly- haired Danoch measured his words as he spoke and occasionally pondered whether a given remark should be off the record.
One of his accomplishments, however, hits the visitor right in the eyes. Hanging on his wall is a framed full-page ad that ran in the Los Angeles Times in August 2006, signed by Hollywood actors, producers, writers and studio chiefs. Included in the list are Nicole Kidman, Bruce Willis, Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Danny DeVito, William Hurt and James Woods, as well as moguls and studio chiefs Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone, Haim Saban, Amy Pascal, Ron Meyer, Sherry Lansing and Meyer Gottlieb. The ad ran soon after the beginning of last year's Lebanon war, and the signatories were denouncing the terrorism perpetrated by Hamas and Hezbollah and demanding support for democratic societies to stop terrorism at all cost.
Danoch and his wife Miki speaking with Sharon Stone
After it was published, the ad received a huge amount of press coverage worldwide and marked a break in Hollywood's customary silence in the face of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attacks.
For Danoch, who composed and initiated the ad, it was the payoff for his intense cultivation of the entertainment industry, which started the day he arrived in Los Angeles.
"I realized the tremendous global impact of Hollywood movies and television stars, but past attempts to mobilize them on behalf of Israel had largely failed, and many people thought that Hollywood was a lost cause," he said.
The key to activating the stars, he felt, was through the old-fashioned, laborious method of intense personal contact, in particular by establishing continuing one-on-one relationships.
In meeting after meeting and letter after letter, Danoch conducted private tutorials on Israel, invited name-brand celebrities to visit the Jewish state to see for themselves and urged studio chiefs and producers to consider Israeli locations for their next movie shoot.
He summarized one key to his successful method as "I simply don't accept 'no' for an answer."
He has been a good listener, too, as has been well noted by the Jewish community. Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, the Los Angeles-based national director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, described Danoch's service as "extraordinary."
"When Ehud first arrived, he called on me and asked me to tell him about the Jewish community here. I must have talked for an hour straight, and I could see that he really wanted to understand the issues and personalities.
"Ehud challenged the Jewish community to be its best. He, and Yuval Rotem before him, represented a new generation of young Israeli diplomats who face problems head on."
Danoch was also popular in the Israeli expatriate community. Moshe Barzilay, editor of the Hebrew-language weekly Shalom L.A., noted that "Danoch was here during an extremely difficult wartime period, had to deal with anti-Israel demonstrations and performed well.
"He was of considerable help to Israelis here, listening to both their community and individual concerns."
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.
Both of Danoch's parents were tapped by Israel's education ministry to serve as overseas shlichim, or envoys. As a result, young Ehud spent three years in Montevideo, Uruguay's capital, where he became fluent in Spanish.
That linguistic skill has proved handy in tackling another priority, to strengthen ties between the Latino community in the western United States and Israel, and by extension, with the American Jewish community.
"Latinos here, and in South American countries, do not distinguish between Jews and Israelis; to them they're one and the same," Danoch said. "So by bringing Latinos closer to Israel, we bring them closer to American Jews."
Looking at the demographics, Danoch also believes that it is inevitable that Latinos will play an increasingly influential role in United States politics, and as the United States is Israel's closest ally, this is a crucial strategic relationship.
"Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, and Latinos 15 percent, a proportion that will rise to 25 percent in 20 years," he said. "While some Jewish organizations, like the American Jewish Committee and AIPAC, are active in Jewish-Latino relations, it is time for the entire Jewish community to get more involved."
Danoch feels so strongly about this subject that he is finishing an as-yet-untitled book on Latinos in the United States, taking Los Angeles as his laboratory. The book will be published in Hebrew and then English, but Danoch's target audience is Israeli policymakers, "who need to understand the internal changes coming in the United States," he said. "So far, the Latino community is focusing mainly on domestic issues, but I believe that within less than a decade, they will play a role in foreign relations."
Danoch ticked off other areas in which he believes he has made a difference, with the help of favorable trends.