New Israeli diplomat for Midwest touts common bonds

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

In the coming years, the United States can boost innovation as well as improve relations with Israel through tapping ideas, businesses and developments in that region, the Middle Eastern nation’s new consul general to the Midwest said Thursday.

During a luncheon at the Detroit Athletic Club, Aviv Ezra shared an example: American cities seeking crime prevention measures connecting with an Israeli software company that extracts data from surveillance cameras and analyzes trends.

“That could be permitted here also in the United States, Detroit and other cities,” he said. “This is the way I see to enhance the relationship.”

Ezra discussed developments in his native country, challenges facing Jews around the world and, of course, the impact of the American presidential election during “U.S.-Israel Relationship: Building a Win-Win Situation in the Middle East.”

At one point, some questions from the luncheon guests focused on President-elect Donald Trump and how the administration would affect Israel-U.S. relations.

“I can tell you that this team surrounding him … (is) solid on the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Ezra said. “They understand that working with Israel represents their values, represents the interests of the United States and represents what the constituents are reflecting to them.”

Ezra also addressed Trump recently announcing far-right publishing executive Stephen Bannon as his top White House strategist. Bannon led the Breitbart website, considered by many to be a platform that is racist, sexist and anti-Semitic.

“I think that what President Obama said about allowing President-elect Trump to build his team in a manner that would give him at least the first 100 days of grace is something that is reasonable. It makes sense,” he told the audience. “I think people need to be judged based on what they do.”

Headed by the JCRC/AJC, a partnership for community relations and Jewish advocacy, the event gathered about 75 media professionals to meet the Chicago-based diplomat who acts as Israel’s official representative to Michigan as well as several other Midwestern states.

“Israel remains central to the heart of Jewish Detroit, which sends more people to Israel per capita than almost any other city in North America,” said Beverly Phillips, assistant director of public relations for the partnership. “… In Detroit, Israel is our story and it is a local story.”

Ezra, who has also been the congressional affairs director at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem and spent five years as the counselor for congressional affairs at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C., made his first appearance as consul general in Detroit since starting the position this year.

He mentioned inviting Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to Israel and said Gov. Rick Snyder is scheduled to attend a major cyber technology conference in the country early next year.

Ezra said it’s important for Michigan officials to explore ways to work with Israeli enterprises and capitalize on the latest technological innovations. “We could do a lot of things together,” he said.

After the gathering, Ezra also called for the public to give Trump a chance to lead.

“The gravity of the position will definitely take its toll,” he said. “I think he is entitled to a grace period before anybody needs to give any judgment.”

The encounter was illuminating for Linda Finkel, who has been active with the JCRC and helped sponsor the event. “There’s nothing like giving good information,” she said. “It’s a very important place for people to listen.”

The Associated Press contributed.