Miami mayor: ‘Settlements’ is wrong word to use

Carlos Gimenez says Israeli reality is short-shrifted in 30-second sound bites; correct description is "developments."

Maaleh Adumim development_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Maaleh Adumim development_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
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.
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“When you 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 Bank.
“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 visiting Israel.
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 AJC.”
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 constituents.”
“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.”
With 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 Cuban-Americans.
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 pro-Israel.”
“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 candidate.
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.”
He 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, he said.
“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.
“This is something we don’t understand, something we have never had in the US.
“We don’t live under that threat,” Gimenez added.
“We visited 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, Ohio.
The trip also included five other top municipal officials from those cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Miami, Florida and Portland, Oregon.