'Our biggest problem is apathy, not anti-Semitism'

Consul-General to NY Ido Aharoni tells Jewish Federations General Assembly that Israel must focus on relationship-building.

NY Consul-General Ido Aharoni 370 (photo credit: New Jersey Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)
NY Consul-General Ido Aharoni 370
(photo credit: New Jersey Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)
BALTIMORE – There’s no predominantly anti-Israel sentiment on most American campuses – rather apathy is the true danger facing the Jewish state, according to an Israeli diplomat.
“There is no prevailing anti- Israel sentiment. That’s not the winning narrative on campus,” Ido Aharoni, Israel’s consul-general in New York, told a rabbinical group gathered as part of the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual General Assembly here.
“The biggest problem we have on campus today is apathy,” he stressed. “The real danger is for more and more Americans, Jews and non- Jews, that develop the inability to relate [to] Israel.”
Aharoni, who frequently visits colleges and universities as part of his diplomatic outreach, said that Israel advocates on campuses have wasted time using a flawed strategy.
“For many, many years, we worked on the wrong assumption that the purpose of human communications is to win an imaginary argument,” he said. “Now we know that the real purpose of human communications is to build relationships.”
The consul-general said that Israel needs to build relationships first, and only then ask for help with challenges the country faces.
He argued that the way to build those relationships is to find ways to engage people with Israel that moves beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly through Israel’s creative contributions.
Aharoni pointed to hi-tech, agriculture, dance, fashion and TV programs as just some examples of fields where Israeli creativity can be inspiring to international audiences.
He noted that the Foreign Ministry is no longer referring to such efforts as “branding” Israel because of the connotation of manipulation that the term conveys.
“The task at hand is to broaden the conversation about Israel. The current conversation is very narrow, and it’s limited to Israel’s problems,” Aharoni said. “If we do not broaden the conversation, we will not be able to compete for the attention of the next generation.”
“Making sure that people remain engaged [with Israel] is certainly an ongoing concern,” said Conservative Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, chair of the JFNA’s rabbinic cabinet.
He said that concern led the cabinet to put the issue on the agenda. Of the more than 3,000 lay leaders and Jewish activists in Baltimore for the GA, Weinblatt estimated that some 60 of them were rabbis, representing the range of Jewish dominations.
“We have to realize that we have an important role to play, and that’s to motivate people to care about Israel,” Weinblatt said of congregational rabbis. •