NEW YORK — The complex nature of Israel is something with which Ido Aharoni, who has been Israel’s consul-general in New York for four years now, is all too familiar. In his position as Israel’s public diplomat in New York and in his mission to help refocus the conversation about Israel to include more than just the conflict, Aharoni, who will be one of the many high-profile participants at The Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in April in New York, has run up against what he called “the challenge of Israel’s well-wishers.”
“There’s a whole group of people out there who think that the goal is to improve the way we make the case for Israel,” Aharoni said. “My biggest challenge is to convey the message to those people that in today’s world, it’s actually more important to build relationships.
Once you have those relationships, then you can ask for active support.”
In Aharoni’s view, Israel is drastically underperforming in terms of tourism and new business investments coming into the country. “We bring only 3.7 million tourists a year.
We should be bringing 15 million,” he said. “We should be able to attract more than $10 billion in investment per year.
There are 300,000 American students that study abroad every year. Only 1,500 of them end up in Israel. That’s severe underperformance.”
Like a tutor for an underperforming student, Aharoni is trying to up his country’s perceived score on the world stage. His goal – rather than being a political advocate for Israel, a role that falls much more to UN ambassador Ron Prosor – is more to act as Israel’s public relations representative: to “broaden the conversation” about Israel, and “create relevance” with communities that might not otherwise be interested in Israel; in other words, to promote the parts of Israeli society that don’t have to do with the conflict, the peace process, or any of what most Americans might read daily about Israel in the news.
“If we, Israeli diplomats, aren’t able to learn effectively how to market our great product, meaning our great country, then we will find our selves at a major disadvantage in the very near future,” he said. “It is no less important for Israel to be attractive than to be right.”
Of course, not only does Israel have a public relations expert in New York, it also has a lawyer. Ambassador Ron Prosor has been the face and very direct voice of Israel at the United Nations in New York since February 2011, often choosing an approach to his diplomacy that some would deem less than diplomatic.
He’s not afraid to criticize the UN’s policies when it comes to, for example, the lack of recognition of the Holocaust, nor does he mince words in the chambers of the Security Council.
“It’s important to straight shoot, to really make your point. I believe that when you really go out there and talk truth to power and really say things the way they are, there is huge respect for that,” Prosor said, adding that ambassadors from other countries have often approached him after various speeches to thank him. “I think we should move into that dialogue, where we really say what we mean....
People relate to that, and then you know where you stand.”
Like Aharoni outside the UN, Prosor has also focused much of his efforts at the UN to promoting Israel beyond the conflict, with achievements like the passage of the “Blue and White” entrepreneurship resolution that passed with 141 countries’ votes in June 2013.
“We’re doing amazing stuff around the world, from eye doctors, to rescue teams in Tahiti, and the world doesn’t know that, and it’s high time to really present Israel for what it really is,” Prosor said.