Ehud Danoch, who has served as consul general of Israel in Los Angeles since October 2004, has been working round the clock since fighting first broke out between Israel and its neighbors in late June. The situation was prompted first by the capture of one soldier, which led to an outbreak of fighting in Gaza, followed by the capture of two additional soldiers by Hezbollah in Lebanon, where Israel's greatest conflict in decades has ensued.
Danoch's consulate position covers California, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, and he has been working with communities throughout the region. This week, he spoke with The Journal about what the consulate is doing in response to the ongoing crisis, what the American Jewish community can do and how the actions here affect Israel.
Jewish Journal: You spoke at Sunday's rally, which saw thousands of people gather in front of the Israeli consulate in support of Israel. What purpose do you think the rally served?
Ehud Danoch: It was a great rally; the presence of [Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger] and the leaders of the different Jewish communities in Los Angeles shows great support to the State of Israel and to the people of Israel. It is something that the State of Israel needs to hear, that the significant communities in the United States support Israel. It was all over the media in Israel. To see the Jewish community and the different organizations coming together warms the heart during this time.
JJ: What can the Jews do that goes beyond just rallying?
ED: The different Jewish communities in the United States are taking action. Not only rallying - San Diego's rally had 2,500 people and Orange County had 1,500 - but communities are also having briefings, rabbis are briefing their congregations in synagogues, some people are writing op-eds in the newspapers. Federations all over are being interviewed by the media. Everything that has to do with public relations is important, because unfortunately, terrorists and Hamas are getting [media] support from radical Muslim organizations in the United States.
It's not an easy situation in Israel. People are not going to work in the north; they are abandoning their homes, their jobs - it's traumatic. The federations are donating money to take kids from the north to the center of the country. People should do what they feel. We are here to help facilitate everything.
JJ: What else can people do? Are there opportunities to volunteer?
ED: We received a few phone calls from Israelis here who want to go back and do their 30 days of reserve duty in Israel. We will check with Israel on their need for volunteers. Many delegations from different synagogues and organizations are going to Israel, donating money to specific causes.
JJ: What do you tell people who are planning to travel to Israel or to send their kids to Israel?
ED: To come to Israel. Not to cancel their trip. Yes, they are launching missiles in the north, but whoever comes can go to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the rest of Israel. Everyone in Israel is very excited when there are delegations coming to Israel, especially from the U.S. Israelis really love and appreciate Americans.
JJ: Right now, public opinion has been unusually favorable toward Israel's actions, but do you fear that it might shift as the conflict continues?
ED: What is the choice but to support Israel? To support Hezbollah? Hamas? We're working very hard now on the public relations front. You are beginning to hear criticism, and it isn't something we want. After all, Israel, a free country, a democracy, is fighting for its existence.
The media should take Israel as a role model of a country that fights terrorism, because unfortunately, terrorism is not only in the Middle East, it's a global phenomenon. The media is showing personal stories of people coming from Lebanon, but it's important to know that in Israel, there are 250,000 people in shelters, 3 million under the threat of rockets. There are soldiers dead and wounded, and all the media should report these stories.
JJ: What do you say to people who feel Israel is overreacting to the crisis?
ED: I don't accept it. When it comes to fighting terrorist organizations, there's a need for tough action. And it's important to understand that Hezbollah is not an organization, it's an army of terrorists. We have specific objectives: to bring our soldiers home and disarm Hezbollah, and that's good for the region and the world. When it comes to global terrorism, it sends a message to terrorist organizations worldwide that they do not have any immunity. If the free world will not win in this war, chaos will take place.
JJ: As the consul general, as an Israeli, what have you learned about American Jews, especially in this time of crisis?
ED: I'm an Israeli; I've lived abroad over eight years, but what I saw recently, what I watched unfold is that when the American Jewish community feels that Israel is in difficult times, crucial times, then everyone comes together. The different organizations work together, people are calling in and asking, every day, "What do you need from us? What can we do?" That is beautiful to see.
In the end, the State of Israel is something that belongs to the Jewish people; the Jewish community is a sacred community that we have to hold close to our hearts.