Only Out of Their Love For Israel – The Jewish State’s Honorary Consuls

 

Despite not being Israeli citizens, some 77 Jewish & Christian figures around the globe serve as honorary consuls for the State of Israel.

By Yossi Aloni

 

They are the long arm of Israeli diplomacy, and they aren’t even Israeli citizens. They help foster strong relations, and open doors that would otherwise be shut. They are motivated by love for Israel, and, no, they receive no monetary compensation. In fact, they invest much of their own time and money to fulfill their important diplomat mission.

Israel’s honorary consuls meet with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. – Photo: Chaim Tzach

Introducing the honorary consuls of the State of Israel, a total of 77 specifically accredited persons, many of them non-Israeli Jews, but also including a large number of Bible-believing Christians.

Earlier this month, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs held its second Honorary Consuls of Israel conference, which was attended by 48 of the honorary consuls, representing 36 nations, 13 of which don’t even have official diplomatic representation in Israel.

One of the honorary consuls in attendance was Roberto Nelkenbau of Bolivia, which severed all diplomatic ties to Israel in 2009. As the only representative of Israel in the South American country, Nelkenbau is often called upon to provide consular services to Israelis visiting Bolivia, which remains a popular destination for backpackers from the Jewish state.

Following the summer’s Gaza war, the Bolivian government decided to punish Israel by canceling a 1972 agreement that exempted Israeli visitors from obtaining a visa before arriving. Nelkenbau quietly negotiated with his government on Israel’s behalf, ultimately securing an understanding whereby Israelis could continue to travel to Bolivia and pay at the border for a temporary visa.

The backpacking and hiking adventures in which these Israelis partake are often dangerous, and Nelkenbau regularly plays a key role in dealing with accidents involving Israelis in Bolivia.

And while he is known to Israelis visiting the country, Nelkenbau is even more recognizable among his own countrymen. Like most of the other honorary consuls, Nelkenbau is a known public figure in his country. He is a former professional race car driver who today owns a chain of popular cinemas.

Also like Nelkenbau, many of the honorary consuls are from nations in which Israel has no embassy or official diplomatic representation. These consuls, in effect, serve as Israel’s ambassador. They raise the Israeli flag with pride at their residences, the addresses of which are often used by the Israeli government for all matters pertaining to government or local media.

One of the longest-serving honorary consuls is Benny Gilbert of Barbados. Despite Barbados’ small size, Gilbert has been able to play an important role in Israel’s global diplomacy. Any time there is an important vote regarding Israel at the UN, the Jewish state scrambles to find nations willing to vote on its side. In such situations, the Israeli Foreign Ministry calls up Gilbert and guides him in how to approach the government of Barbados and what message to convey. More than once, Gilbert’s intervention has resulted in Barbados abstaining from votes on important anti-Israel resolutions.   “My greatest success was convincing Barbados to abstain from a vote on accepting the [State of] Palestine at the UN, [a motion] the government had planned to support,” said Gilbert.

Fredrik Ekholm is one of the newer honorary consuls. He represents Israel in the city of Vasa, Finland. As a devout Christian, Ekholm is constantly on the lookout for anti-Israel boycotts, which he and a group of like-minded Christians immediately seek to counter by promoting the boycotted Israeli goods.

“I explain to people that they must not be foolish. Even if they have criticism of Israel, it is no reason to boycott Israeli products, which are the best available,” said Ekholm. “I believe that doing business with Israel is a blessing.”

Ekholm owns a company that imports Israeli wines and Dead Sea products to Finland. He also regularly organizes pro-Israel conference and rallies, and never tires of directly intervening when he comes across biased anti-Israel news reports.

“Whenever I read or see reports negative of Israel, I immediately pick up the phone and contact the reporter in question to correct him,” said Ekholm, who has become something of a one-man PR army.

“The problem is that the media in Europe constantly reports false information,” he explained. “We have to find a way to deliver the right information, and one way is through videos. In Finland, we have published numerous videos, for instance showing Hamas hiding rockets in residential areas or calling for Israel’s destruction. Those who see the videos often change their tune.”

Jewish businessman Philip Kaye has been serving as Israel’s honorary consul to Wales since 2010. In this capacity, Kaye works closely with the Israeli Embassy in London, in addition to also operating as a one-man PR war room. Not a scrap of anti-Israel propaganda in the local media escapes Kaye, who immediately responds either personally or by mobilizing a network of pro-Israel voices.

“People are affected by the information they receive. This is not a lost cause, and we must not give up,” said Kaye.   During the last Gaza war, Kaye hosted the former mayor the rocket-battered southern Israel town of Sderot, David Buskila. “We introduced [Mayor Buskila] in churches, where he explained life under the threat of missiles,” said Kaye. “Unfortunately, we were unable to arrange any media interviews.”

Presently, Kaye is working to bring Israeli musicians for a first of its kind music festival in Wales. “I try to advance Israeli interests not only in politics, but also in culture and economy,” he said.

But doing this work often comes with a price.

Kaye has received threats in the past, but said local police are on the case and he is not frightened. Much more harrowing is the situation for Israel’s honorary consul in Cordoba, Argentina, Mr. Alejandro Orchansky. The Jewish businessman’s private home has been the scene of four demonstrations by pro-Palestinian activists, and he has received a number of death threats necessitating regular police protection.

Orchansky related that the situation is so bad that most are scared to actually speak up for Israel, or to even be neutral on the subject.

“I fight constantly with a local media that is completely against Israel,” he said. “I spoke to journalists and asked, ‘Why don’t you allow anyone to write in favor of Israel, or at least to be neutral?’ The answer shocked me: ‘What do you want, we would be the only ones!'”

Orchansky lamented that the media in Argentina are “like cattle. I found the best way is to avoid politics and instead show the beauty of Israel. I show Israel’s achievements in medicine, education and culture. I also take governors and other trainees on tours of Israel. They all return to Argentina as ambassadors for Israel.”

During the recent conference, attending honorary consuls met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who provided an overview of the current situation in the region. They also received briefings from senior Foreign Ministry officials and toured local “hot spots” like the Gaza border.

Concluding the visit, Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the honorary consuls “an important part of Israel’s diplomatic ‘Iron Dome,'” referencing the anti-missile system that saved so many lives during the Gaza war.

 

View original Israel Today publication at: http://www.israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/nid/25557/Default.aspx

 

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