Israel should be describing Jewish communities beyond the Green Line as
developments, not settlements, Carlos Gimenez, the recently elected mayor of
Miami-Dade County, said on Friday.
Gimenez, on a six-day visit to Israel
with four other mayors of large US cities as part of Project Interchange, an
educational institute of the American Jewish Committee, said the reality of the
settlements – as opposed to the stereotype that the word invokes – was what
surprised him most during his first visit to the country.
Off the diplomatic path
Savir's corner: Freeze settlements now!
conjure up the word ‘settlement,’ you think about the Old West, pioneers and all
that,” he said in an interview just after visiting Efrat in the West
“It is really more like a development, that is all it is,” he said.
“Settlement is the wrong word to use. If you want to describe it to Americans,
it is really a development.
“We spoke to someone who lived in a
settlement. Just a normal person. Basically just someone who wants to live in a
suburb. That’s it. Is there conflict there? Obviously. But [Efrat] is not what I
thought it was going to be.”
With some 2.5 million people living in
Miami-Dade country, Gimenez, 57, elected in June, is mayor of the eighth most
populous county in the US. It is also the metropolitan area with one of
America’s largest Jewish populations, one of the reasons he said he was keen on
Asked if he expected to be criticized for visiting
Israel on a trip sponsored by an American Jewish organization, Gimenez said he
could have come under criticism had the trip been funded by Miami- Dade
taxpayers. But “taxpayer money didn’t fund this, I was invited by the
He stressed this point on the calendar listing of his website,
where under the November 19 entry it reads: “Mayor Gimenez selected to
participate in leadership and education program alongside fellow US mayors. The
trip will not be funded by taxpayer dollars.”
Gimenez said a trip to
Israel helped him better understand a “large number of my
“I’m Cuban-American, I understand a lot of my
Cuban-American and Hispanic brethren that live in Miami,” he said. “It is always
good to put yourself in other people’s shoes and walk in them for a while, to
look at things from their perspective and see how they think. So for me it was
natural. If anyone gives me flak about this, then they don’t understand that.
I’m here to understand what Israel is about, and Israel is very important to a very large number of my constituents.”
Hispanics, the fastest growing demographic in the US, Israel and various Jewish
organizations are keen on making inroads into a community not seen as having a
strong, emotional pro-Israel reflex. The exception, however, are
Gimenez, who pointed out that there were many
differences and nuances within the US Hispanic community, characterized Cuban-
Americans as “more conservative in their outlook and very
“Cuban-Americans identify very closely with Israel,” he
said. “We were basically without a country, and know what it is like to be
persecuted for your beliefs.”
Among the other strong pro-Israel
Cuban-American politicians are Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen, who like Gimenez was born in Havana and immigrated to the US as a
child; and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, and a
Republican whose name is often mentioned as a possible 2012 vice-presidential
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post just before his group was about
to enter Yad Vashem, Gimenez said that “in order to understand the present, you
have to understand the past. You have to understand how you got to where you are
right now – and the past and the history is a way to understand that.”
said he hoped his trip would lead to economic cooperation between his city and
Israel that would benefit both places.
Israel’s reality doesn’t
adequately come out in 30- second television sound bites and short news stories,
“You can’t understand the deep feelings, the emotional feelings
here, on both sides, and the fact that you live here with the conflict on a
daily basis, and that it can touch you on a daily basis,” he said.
is something we don’t understand, something we have never had in the
“We don’t live under that threat,” Gimenez added.
Sderot and saw Gaza on the other side. We don’t live like that, with a 15-second
warning to get into a bomb shelter. It gives me a greater understanding of the
courage – it’s just a different way of life.”
The four other mayors on
the trip were Houston’s Annise Parker, St. Paul, Minnesota’s Christopher
Coleman, Provo, Utah’s John Curtis, and Mark Mallory of Cincinnati,
The trip also included five other top municipal officials from
those cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Miami, Florida and Portland, Oregon.