February 12, 2007
EXCLUSIVE: Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch Shares Thoughts on Iranian American Jewry
After being appointed in October 2004 as Consul General of Israel for the Southwestern region of the United States, Ehud Danoch has brought a fresh new approach to working in this vital foreign post and energized both Jews and non-Jews alike to get excited about Israel again. Still in his 30âs, Danoch who is an attorney by trade, is by far no novice when it comes to politics. Prior to his current position, he served as a Senior Advisor to Israelâs Minister of Finance as well as Chief of Staff to former Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Silvan Shalom. In addition to helping forge Israelâs national budget, Danoch was also involved in various policy decisions including Israelâs âSecurity Fenceâ and plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. In addition to speaking Hebrew, Danoch is also fluent in English and Spanish. He serves as a reservist in Israelâs Defense Forces at the rank of Captain.
Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Danoch about his background, the current situation in Israel, his efforts in the Consulate, as well as the Consulateâs outreaching to our community through a new program designed to encourage young Iranian Jews who have never been to Israel, to travel to their homeland.
Following the near one month war in Israel against Hezbollah, the cities in Northern Israel suffered tremendous damager. How secure is Israel today following the ceasefire and how capable will Hezbollah be in striking Israel again in the future?
There is no doubt that the situation of Israel today when it comes to security that itâs better than it was on July 12th when the war started in Lebanon. We have to understand that the Hezbollah was spread all over Southern Lebanon. They controlled the area, they had their posts, training camps, missiles, weaponary, and terrorists all over the place. Today after the war we managed to hit very hard their capabilities, we destroyed 80-percent of their long and medium range missiles, we destroyed many of their posts, training camps—and we hit them very very hard. Not to mention, over 20 different operations that took place, two were published and the rest I believe will be published in the future. But with all of this, the ceasefire that took place under U.N. Resolution 1701 brought in the international force that is spread all over Southern Lebanon and the forces that are going to come in the future, together with the army of Lebanon will make sure that the Hezbollah will not operate from Southern Lebanon. Together with this there is an embargo on Syria and Iran from delivering ammunition, weapons and missiles to the Hezbollah. We hope that the international community will bring for the implementation of Resolution 1559 that calls for the disarming of Hezbollah, Resolution 1701 that calls for an embargo on weapons to Hezbollah, and very important for the unconditional release the Israeli kidnapped soldiers that are being held as hostages in Lebanon. We cautiously have to wait and see the developments, and hopefully see the implementation of the resolution.
What was your reaction to the outpouring of support and financial contributions of the Iranian Jewish community to Israel during the recent war with Hezbollah?
Personally, I very much appreciate the warmth, the support, the dedication, the friendship of the Iranian Jewish community here in Los Angeles. We havenât seen this only in words but actually in actions. When the Iranian Jewish community did several events to express support and solidarity with the State of Israel, to raise money for the people of Israel during the war. There was a beautiful and very successful event at the Iranian Federation synagogue where I brought the Goldwassers—Karnit Goldwasser, who is the wife of Ehud Goldwasser (kidnapped Israeli soldier) to that event which was very emotional. I must tell you that I spoke to her many times after and she said that she will never forget the warmth, the welcoming, the friendship, and the positive energizing that she received from the beautiful Iranian community here.
You have an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) and have worked as an attorney, what initially motivated you to enter into the world of politics?
I used to work in a private law firm in Israel that handled business law, litigation, liquidations and I got an offer to become the Senior Advisor to the Finance Minister. In Israel the Finance Ministry is different than in the United States, itâs the one that provides the budgets for all the 24 ministries. So working in the Finance Ministry is actually working in the heart of public service in Israel. There are many issues that even if you are a lawyer or a C.P.A. that when it comes to the governmental system in Israel, itâs hard to know exactly how the system operates. When youâre working in the Finance Ministry you are taking part in the national budget, you learn about each ministry and you understand how every ministry operates. That was a whole different experience from working as a lawyer. I said to myself I want to be there when such important decisions are being made and this is why I joined the foreign ministry. After the elections, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom offered me the position to be his Chief of Staff and I was wondering whether to go to the public sector or staying in public service. On the one hand it was my desire to learn more about public service in Israel, but the foremost reason was to contribute to the State of Israel. It was a very unique experience to go all over the world and meet with heads of State—to learn and to see how the international community treats Israel when it comes to foreign policy.
You have been at this post for a year and a half, what have been the most challenging aspects of the job and how have things changed since you came onboard?
There are many issues that we deal with. We deal with media and public relation, we deal with the university campuses, we meet with politicians and to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the politicians-Congressmen, Senators, Mayor, Governors, Consul members. We deal with economic issues and try to encourage economic investment in Israel, we also deal with the entertainment industry. We have a very large jurisdiction to cover that includes; Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Hawaii, and California. One of the issues was to push and to expose Israel as much as we can to the community. When Iâm talking about the community, Iâm not just talking about only the Jewish community, Iâm talking about the citizens of the United States that live in our jurisdiction. In our jurisdiction, if you take the states all together, we had to reach nearly 50 million people. So what we did was to outreach of course to the media. For example, we went to the Los Angeles Times, Univision, Telemundo, and La Opinion to sit down with them and explain the current issues in Israel. I think that we are now seeing that people are more receptive, people are going to Israel—we see delegations of politicians going to Israel, members of the entertainment industry that we did not see in the past four years, are now going to Israel. Actors like Sharon Stone, Will Smith, Uma Thurman and the head of the studios are going to Israel. People are coming from many regions because they hear that Israel is a very dynamic, vibrant, democratic country. Some people come because of religion and all their lives theyâve heard about the Holyland, so itâs an amazing experience for them.
This past May you spoke at the Magbit Foundation Gala in Beverly Hills about the local Iranian Jewish community being among the ones who have come to admire. Can you please elaborate on why you have such admiration for our community?
The Iranian Jewish community is a unique and special community. They are very warm, open, and very welcoming. When I mentioned what I said it was because I know what their families went through, I know what the parents and the grandparents went through. I myself have learned about Iranian history—not only Iranian Jewish history which is very cultural and traditional, I have also learned about the political history of Iran. If you follow the political issues that took place in Iran, you understand that it was not easy for the Jewish people there. There was a time that there were great political relations but after the revolution many of their families left for Europe, Israel, and the United States. When you take a community that is so strongly rooted and very traditional, itâs beautiful to see Shabbat dinners with Persian families. But they are the ones that understand it very well because in 1979 the majority of them came to Israel, now imagine god forbid if there was no State of Israel there. This specific community because they suffered a lot understands very well the importance of the State of Israel and I admire this.
What else can the Iranian Jewish community specifically do at this time to support Israel in other ways?
Something that concerns me is that their children are getting wonderful educations and the parents are investing a lot in them, but I was surprised to see many of the students have not been to Israel. Many people between the age of 25 to 35 in the Iranian Jewish community have never been to Israel. You have to ask yourself what will happen in the future? O.K., they are wealthy and they have businesses, but are they going to continue their traditions? Someone who hasnât been to Israel doesnât understand what itâs like. You can see movies, DVDâs and pictures but you have to be there in order to feel the atmosphere, the energy, in order to feel the protection, in order to understand that this is your country. This is the only country in the world that when you land and stand on your two feet in the airport, you are an Israeli if you are Jewish automatically. I am planning and I would like the help of the Iranian Jewish community here for a new project. I would like to arrange a trip for those young students from the Iranian Jewish community that have never been to Israel-maybe 30 students and weâll do it every year. They will be between 25 and 35 who have never been to Israel. The Jewish Agency would like to work together with me, so they will take part in this as well and of course I would like the cooperation of the parents to work together on this issue. By being in Israel, they will understand that people are driving beautiful cars, there are nightclubs, shopping mallsâ¦people are going out at eleven oâclock at night and returning at 6 a.m.! I am not asking for anything else from them, this is for the community and it will strengthen their Jewish identity.
In November 2005, nearly 2000 Iranians of various faiths gathered for a pro-Israel demonstration in Westwood after Iranâs President called for Israel to be âwiped off the mapâ. Were you surprised by the turnout and support from many Iranian Muslims and other non-Jewish Iranians?
No, I was not surprised because the non-Jewish Iranian community here is different. Some of them have close relations with the Jewish community. They chose to live in a democratic country here and many of them are American citizens, so I think itâs easier for them to identify with a democratic country like Israel rather than a totalitarian country like Iran.
You recently spoke at the L.A. Sports Arena to a crowd of nearly 23,000 Pentecostal Christian Zionists. What type of outreach does the consulate do toward non-Jewish communities or groups in the area you cover?
First of all we should ask ourselves, why should we outreach? We donât live in closed communities and we shouldnât live in closed communities. Especially today when things are global—economies, investments, when it comes to public diplomacy political support it is important to reach many communities. For example, we have a very close relationship with the Latino community here in Los Angeles. I of course speak Spanish to them and we have planned mutual events. It is important for us to show them or expose Israel to them because some of them may have read about Israel but they donât really know everything about Israel. If they do hear about Israel itâs through the media and the media most of the time deals with the Arab-Israeli conflict. We both know that Israel is much more than a conflict, so we encourage them to come to Israel. The Christian community is also very significant and an important community here and around the world. They send many delegations to Israel during the year, they are great supporters of the State of Israel, and whoever supports Israel, I support him. We have also started outreaching to the Korean community and African American community.
Turning to issues of Israel, we still see Palestinian terrorist firing rockets into Israel from Gaza. How has unilateral withdrawal from Gaza has helped or harmed Israel?
According to the security forces, the outcome of the disengagement was for the benefit of the security of the State of Israel. They [Palestinians] launched Kassam missiles before the disengagement and we still see hundreds of Kassam rockets launched at Israel today. Since Israelis are no longer there, as soon as they launch Kassam rockets itâs a declaration of war against the State of Israel. And now you cannot talk to terrorists, so Israel will respond to the attacks to defend itself.
Issues of Iran and the Iranian Presidentâs calls for Israel to be âwiped off the mapâ have been on the minds of many Jews, particularly Iranian Jews here in Southern California. To what extent has Israel taken into consideration the potential reprisals Iranâs regime may take on the near 25,000 Jews still living in Iran in the event of a strike led by Israel or U.S.?
Israel will do everything in its power to protect every Jew that is living in the Diaspora. But with it, if you ask me, itâs very simple to come and to say âleave Iranâ- but yes, leave Iran. Why are those Jewish people still living there? Itâs a bit difficult. I know from people here that they are very concerned about some of their family living in Iran.
Your family is of Yemenite descent and we also see many Iranian Jews in prominent position in Israeli government. How have the lives and opportunities for Sephardim in Israel changed since its establishment?
There is no question of Sephardim and Ashkenazim in Israel. It was an issue 50 years ago but there isnât an issue today and the proof that it isnât an issue is that fifty percent of the cabinet today [in the Israeli government] are Sephardim and also in the former cabinet. We have a President, Minister of Defense, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief of the Army, who are all Sephardim as well.
If I may say so, you are still a young man. What are your plans after your tenure as Consul General is over? Will we be seeing you in the Knesset?
We have time. Weâll see what the future holds and of course I will try to continue to do my best to help and make a difference for the State of Israel and for the people of Israel.
This interview was originally published by the Iranian Jewish Chronicle Magazine: