April 29, 2004
L.A Lobbies to Keep Rotem
Israel's Consul General Yuval Rotem bade farewell Monday night to the Los Angeles community he has served for nearly five years, but his admirers hope that they can persuade Jerusalem to extend his stay.
In a brief but emotional address at the annual Israel Independence Day reception, Rotem praised the support of the Jewish community and recalled the many friendships he and his family had made.
He also conferred artistically design menorahs as appreciation for their support of Israel on John and Ruth Rauch, founders of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity; Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; and John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, however, influential members of the Los Angeles Jewish community are waging a discreet but persistent campaign to extend the term of a diplomat who has enjoyed an unusually high level of respect among diverse constituencies as Israel's top representative in Southern California, five southwestern states and Hawaii.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was privately lobbied on the matter by a number of local leaders during his visit to Los Angeles in late March.
"The past two years -- as the media turned increasingly against Israel -- have demanded extraordinary efforts to reach not only the sub-groups that make up the Jewish community, but Latinos, African Americans, Asians and Christians," said Neil Kadisha, who serves on the executive board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
"Yuval has established warm personal relationships with leaders of all these groups and, as the American elections approach, it is crucial that Israel maintain these relationships," he said. "I understand the foreign ministry's rotation policy, but it would take a new consul general at least 18 months to gain a real understanding of this complex city and state. We can't afford that time."
Rotem, a 44-year-old career foreign service officer, was appointed to his present post by then-Foreign Minister Ehud Barak and given the personal rank of ambassador on the recommendation of former Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Fishel described Rotem as "an extraordinary and highly focused diplomat, who has mobilized his staff and with whom we enjoy the closest professional and personal relationship. We need a person like that here, especially at this time."
Fishel said he had talked with Shalom during the latter's visit, and while the foreign minister publicly acknowledged the vital services of Rotem and the consular staff, he was noncommittal about a possible extension of Rotem's assignment. Shalom could not be reached in Jerusalem for further comments.
Yehuda Handelsman, immediate past president of the Council of Israeli Communities, said that "Yuval has reconnected Los Angeles and Israel" in general and had greatly strengthened ties between the consulate and the estimated 120,000-160,000 official Israeli expatriates in the city.
Handelsman also noted the connections Rotem had forged with the influential Hollywood community, which hosted Shalom during his visit here.
"I'm really selfish about this, because I am afraid that it would take a new person a long time to become effective," he said. "In difficult times, [foreign ministry] rules should be bent."
Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, said that Rotem is "extremely effective and very well-versed in the concerns of our community. It would be a great advantage if he were to stay longer."
Rotem himself said that he was humbled by the extent of community support and had requested a one-year extension of his stay, but that the decision was up to the foreign ministry.
According to the recollections of old timers, the longest-serving consul general here was Benjamin Navon, who held the post for seven years.
Herb Keinon, the veteran political editor of the Jerusalem Post, noted that "Los Angeles is considered a plum foreign service assignment and some heavy hitters inside the ministry are keen on that post."
As an added consideration, Israel's foreign minister is allowed to make 11 political appointments -- outside the career civil service -- to foreign diplomatic posts. In general, such political appointments have been reserved for key ambassadorships to Washington, London and Paris, but have gone to the New York consulate general, as well.
A political appointment to Los Angeles would likely stir up considerable resentment among career officers in the foreign ministry.