NEW YORK – A panel during Sunday’s Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York was slated to focus on the socioeconomic challenges facing Israeli society. It turned out to be a debate about the role of Rita.
Rita Jahanforuz, the famous Israeli singer born in Iran, told the audience she is a living example of the power of music and the openness of Israeli society.
“I’m singing in Hebrew and Persian, naturally intertwined with each other,” said the singer, known solely by her first name. She added that she is on a “personal and artistic journey to connect the two countries,” Israel and Iran.
Ido Aharoni, the Israeli consul general in New York, said Rita represented one of Israel’s greatest cultural assets that ought to be emphasized when advertising the Jewish state to the world.
Instead, he said, Israel has for decades committed a “mistake of historical proportions” by defining itself “only in terms of our problems.”
“It’s time for us as a collective, as a nation, to begin a long-term celebration of our assets,” Aharoni said. “It’s time for us to adopt the language of Israel’s relative advantages.”
Russell Robinson, the CEO of the Jewish National Fund, agreed that public discussions of Israel should not focus on existential threats to the country.
It is difficult, he said, to market a country that might cease to exist.
Efi Stenzler, the global chairman of KKL-JNF, praised the collaborations between his colleagues in the US and Nefesh B’Nefesh in helping bring American Jews to Israel.
Matthew Bronfman, chairman of Limmud FSU and son of the late Edgar Bronfman, said that the only way to get more Americans to fall in love with Israel is to encourage them to visit – especially on programs like Birthright.
But Martin Sherman, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, cautioned that exclusively focusing on promoting Israel’s achievements can be problematic.
“Israel is like a bus, where people are investing in the upholstery, putting in Wi-Fi, improving the stereo system, but they’re forgetting to maintain the engine and take care of the brakes,” he said. “Overshadowing all the socioeconomic issues you can think of is the Palestinian issue.”
“I don’t think it’s a matter of only presenting our strong side and ignoring our problems. I think we have to talk about solving our problems as well,” he said, commenting that recent rocket attacks in Eilat, for example, threaten that city’s viability as a tourist hot spot.