The visit to the Twin Cities of Orli Gil, Israel's Consul General to the Midwest, was an occasion, as usual, to hear from a straight-talking veteran diplomat about a wide variety of issues during her 36 hours in St. Paul and Minneapolis as articulated before a wide variety of audiences. Consul General Gil – known as “Orli” to all – will complete her three year “tour” as Israel's representative to the Midwest covering eleven states and over 775,000 square miles this summer and return to Jerusalem. All of us will miss her encyclopedic knowledge of practically any subject and her sabra bluntness cosseted around her deep love for her country – despite its issues which she enumerates – and deep affection for us Americans and her upper Midwest “territory” of Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota (and Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin).
Here are some points made by Orli, in no particular order, during her March 14-16 visit:
- Israel's democratic tradition means in 64 years of history there has been no interference with elections despite numerous wars and national emergencies – the IDF has never intervened politically.
- The shared values of the United States and Israel – democracy, stability, consensual transition of governments – are the foundation of the relationship.
- Israel's democratic infrastructure is strong. Israel has more NGOs per capita than any other country.
- The existential threat of a nuclear Iran poses a grave threat to Israel. Israel has survived its wars and knows how to deal with terrorism no matter the difficulties involved including the Hamas missiles striking southern Israel.
- Israel is a small country which one Iranian nuclear bomb will destroy. Israel's second strike capability is irrelevant under these circumstances other than for revenge. Israel is 12 miles across at its narrowest seam and 5-8 hours driving time long at its widest point south to north.
- Iran's possession of a nuclear weapon will precipitate a race for nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East – meanwhile, Iran will only be emboldened in its support of al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and their operations throughout the world including North and South America. Iran, which has – outside of Turkey – the second most vigorous democracy in the Middle East, does not seem to have much popular opposition to its nuclear weapons program.
- Sanctions are critically important – Israel only wants to see economic and diplomatic pressure brought to bear on Iran, if at all possible. All options are “on the table.” China, Russia and India's participation in the sanctions are critically important for their viability.
- Israel is grateful for the Obama administration – as it was for the Bush administration – for its support on key issues such as Palestinian Unilateral Declaration of Independence, Qualitative Military Advantage and missile defense, such as Iron Dome.
- Iron Dome was effective in intercepting Hamas and others' missiles in the latest provocation and escalation of missile attacks on southern Israel originating from Gaza. Prevention of greater harm through destruction of missiles reduced the scope and ferocity of Israeli response.
- Positioning of Israeli government had not changed: a two state solution is essential through direct negotiations including the most complicated issues including water, borders and Jerusalem. The latter is particularly difficult as Jerusalem is a “tangle of neighborhoods.” Little progress is being made which is unfortunate in light of the near success of negotiations under Prime Ministers Barak in 2000 and Olmert in 2005.
- In terms of Israel's electoral parliamentary mathematics, the religious and Arab parties hold sway in determining the composition of the ruling coalition. Currently, the religious parties and parties of the right comprise about 50% of the Israeli vote.
- Of significant demographic importance is the fact that 50% of Israelis entering first grade class is non-Zionist in the sense that it is ultra-Orthodox and Arab.
- The “Occupy Tel Aviv” movement of the summer of 2011, on a relative basis, means three million Americans would needed to have participated in a single movement to equal the size of the Tel Aviv protest which was rooted in cost-of-living disenchantment and the sense that Israel's 20% which is Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) is a drag on the country for not serving in the military and for the large numbers who do not work in favor of studying Torah.
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2012 marks the centennial of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg. Pending before the Congress is the Raoul Wallenberg Celebration Act, H.R. 3001, which will, in the words of the Jewish Federations of North America, honor a "true humanitarian for the sake of his family and thousands of survivors who he saved." Co-sponsoring the legislation from Minnesota are Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Erik Paulsen.