Departing Israeli Consul General says speaking out for Israel and stable Israeli government are critical.
When I spoke with Aviv Ezra, Israel’s consul general to the Midwest, it was Day 2 of what would become the 11-Day “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” which began in response to Hamas rockets flying toward Jerusalem. During the past 48 hours, a thousand rockets had been fired at Israel and Ezra’s 80-year-old parents were in a bomb shelter as were a million other Israelis.
Though he described the present as “extremely tense,” he was optimistic about the future.
“We are very focused on the terrible events going on, but we have to zoom out to see the full situation,” he told me. “We have a strong, sovereign, independent Jewish state. We will continue to strive and succeed, and we will overcome this.”
Ezra, who is completing five years as consul general in July, will soon be returning home after 14 years representing Israel in the United States in a variety of capacities. He’s seen a lot and shared some of his thoughts.
Asked if the operation was another instance of “mowing the lawn,” a term that refers to periodic Israeli military action to degrade Hamas’ ability to harm Israel, Ezra doesn’t think so.
“This is different because red lines were crossed,” he says, noting quantity and quality of the rockets being fired, and that some were being shot at Jerusalem.
“We are dealing with a radical murderous regime in Hamas. You cannot seek an equilibrium with an entity that vows in its charter to annihilate you,” he says. “The cabinet will have to make a decision to kick the can down the road or confront the challenges.”
Something Troubling and New
Stopping Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups is something Israel has been engaged in for decades, but the riots that broke out in Israel, particularly in mixed Arab-Jewish towns, was something different and new.
“It is disappointing and frustrating, and I am extremely concerned about it,” Ezra says. “The feeling was that we are making dramatic progress in assimilating Arabs into Israeli society. Not that they all need to become Zionists, but we have been getting to the point where they are part of the living fabric of what Israel is about.
“[Israeli Arabs] have complaints, as do many Jewish Israelis, but there is a process to follow. It is wrong to taint all Israeli Arabs as radicals. The majority are peace-loving people and oppose it, but there is indifference and silence from those against it. This problem will linger way after the rockets stop.”
Asked about Israelis targeting Arabs, he explained, “Radicals can be on either side, but the issue is not the actions of the radicals but the response by leadership,” noting that Israel had spoken out and taken action to stop them, while the Palestinian Authority had not done the same about theirs.
Hamas and its radical supporters “are looking for an excuse to exploit and explode the situation, and it is civilians in Israel and Gaza who are paying the price,” he said.
He is disheartened by the coverage of the conflict, and while it’s not a new problem, it hasn’t been getting any better.
While he doesn’t like or accept it, he understands it.
“There is a lot of fake news,” he says, “and there is not an in-depth understanding of what is happening today. There is a learning curve to know what is going on and why.
“There are a lot of other global problems. There is a pandemic. There are other things on their minds,” he says. To understand what is going on “you have to understand Hamas. You can’t just read 140 characters or use a single shot of footage to understand the whole story. If so, you’ll get it wrong, and that is what is happening.”
Speak Out for Israel
To counter this lack of knowledge, he urges the pro-Israel community to speak out.
“We need to be more active and take a stand. Indifference is very dangerous,” he says, noting that Palestinians and their supporters are active online in a way that Jews and pro-Israel voices are not.
“Say it with a clear voice, a proud voice,” he urges. “Stand up and say, ‘We support Israel.’”
He finds the same problem on college campuses.
“The major, major challenge I find is that the pro-Israel side does not respond,” he says of his experiences on campuses throughout the Midwest. “We do not promote our narrative enough.
“We need to zoom out to provide context and understanding. For example, they say we are not indigenous to the region, but the Jews are indigenous. We need to explain the essence of the Jewish people having a state. It’s not just military might; it is historical right. These things are not clear, understood or even known.
“We have been working for the last few decades on an optimistic future for the Middle East,” Ezra says, citing the Abraham Accords that brought peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and normalization with Morocco and Sudan.
“Building bridges is doable,” he says. “We’ve proven it. But while we are investing in peace, [Hamas] is investing in war. The Jewish community and like-minded countries and individuals should stand up and say it.”
Ezra shares the Israeli consensus that his country needs a stable government, but there is was no consensus at first on who will form it and comprise it and, as a result, Israelis faced the quandary of elections for the fifth time in two and a half years.
“It’s not fair to the blame Israel’s political leaders for the fact that Hamas is firing thousands of rockets at us, but we need a stable government sooner rather than later,” he says. “Without it, we have no policies, no direction, no priorities and no budget. We need it immediately.”