NEW YORK – The Latino head of Israel’s Consulate-General in New York is determined to build bridges with America’s Hispanic community, and has a plan to get them into the Jewish state’s corner.
Consul-General Dani Dayan believes Latinos have great untapped potential in terms of support for the Jewish state, and is working hard to get them on Israel’s side, while he keeps a sharp eye on America’s shifting demographics.
“Latino voices are carrying greater weight [and] leaders from their communities are rising to positions of influence at all levels at an increasing frequency... so we have to redirect our efforts – to come to them, embrace them and build a strong partnership which addresses their needs and values,” Dayan said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post
“This in turn means we have to recognize some areas as strategically important, and in the coming years this includes the Hispanic communities. We see their rise – how they are going to be the demographic plurality in the US in the future,” he added.
Like many Israelis, Dayan has an immigrant background. Born in Argentina, he moved to Israel in 1971 at the age of 15.
Following a distinguished military career in the IDF, Dayan found success in the hi-tech industry, establishing the information-technology firm Elad Systems in 1982.
The 62-year-old Israeli envoy is also viewed by some as a controversial figure. Making his home in the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Shomron, and eventually heading the Yesha Council – the umbrella organization representing municipal councils in Judea and Samaria – Dayan has been a lightning rod for activists who view his presence in the area as illegal.
SLATED TO BECOME ambassador to Brazil in 2015, his appointment was scuttled after the country balked at having to host the face of the settler movement in its capital Brasilia. After months of tussling, the premier finally sent Dayan to Manhattan, where he has kept an open mind about outreach ever since.
“Until now, in some sense the Latino community in the US has almost solely participated in matters that affect the community: matters of immigration, education, healthcare and other domestic matters,” Dayan said.
“I believe that in order for the Latino community to fulfill its true potential of leadership in this country, they have to be involved in every aspe ct of American political life including, for instance, foreign relations – and not only with Latin America, but in the world,” he added.
“We see high rates of undecided opinions among Hispanic Americans regarding Israel,” Dayan continued, adding, “We have to take this opportunity to form a close bond at every level.”
The retired IDF major believes that his understanding of the Latino community can help transcend typical barriers encountered by other diplomats serving in the US, including language, culture and heritage.
“The immigrant experience is not new to me personally. I immigrated to Israel when I was 15 from Buenos Aires, and I speak to Latino communities not only in the same tongue but with the same eyes... I take this across... the five states I work in [New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Delaware], and we are seeing the results of this in the time I have been in New York,” Dayan said.
“I’m a staunch believer in the centrality of Israel in the life of the Jewish people... Israel is certainly a different country than the US, but Israelis understand what it means to be an immigrant society,” he continued. “[Israel] is dedicated to making the lives of immigrants easier. So therefore, we have a lot of experience in fields like learning a language when you are an adult or finding employment in a different environment than the one that you [were] raised. And again, we are willing to expose our know-how, to offer it,” he added.
ISRAEL ADVOCACY GROUPS meanwhile, such as StandWithUs, have paralleled the consulate’s efforts with a new fellowship program aimed at Latino churches and students.
The organization said its Hispanic outreach initiative “is designed uniquely as a platform for Latino Christian students to voice their support for Israel while also educating their campuses and church communities.”
The StandWithUs program includes fellows from both Christian and secular universities such as: Columbia University in New York City; Azusa Pacific University and Fullerton College in Los Angeles; Houston Baptist University and the University of Houston in Texas; Georgia State University in Atlanta; and Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Programs like the one initiated by StandWithUs hope to help with the battle to win hearts and minds in America’s contemporary culture, where Israel’s years-long conflict with the Palestinians has left many young people disengaged from Mideast politics, according to a recent Pew Poll.
But Dayan believes that more can be done in terms of reaching out to groups the government has traditionally ignored, breaching uncharted territory and testing the waters to see if another diplomatic front can be formed with America’s Hispanic community.
“We have been active in supporting the Puerto Rican community in New York and in San Juan, providing relief after Hurricane Maria and helping to bring investment for energy and other environmental projects to the island,” he said.
“We are working to build connections specifically in the Bronx, where I have a very close relationship with the borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr., and Democratic congressmen such as Adriano Espaillat, as well as other community leaders,” Dayan said.
“Our messages are reaching a wider audience,” he said. “There is a strong Spanish speaking media in the US... where some journalists from Hispanic backgrounds were only hearing for the first time an Israeli diplomat speak about key issues such as Jerusalem, Iran and other areas in which we need the support and understanding of the American public.”