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U.S., Israel can learn much from each other, says new consul general
December 28th, 2001
Moshe Ram — who replaced Tzipora Rimon last August as the new consul general of Israel to the Midwest, based in Chicago — said Israelis could learn a lot from Americans about respect for individual privacy, contributing to the betterment of one’s community and “driving better on the highway.”
But the U.S. can also learn — indeed, is in the process of learning — what Israel knows about terrorism. Ram had hardly settled into his new job when the kind of terrorism that has plagued Israel since its founding came to American shores.
“There is a better understanding [regarding terrorism] after Sept. 11th,” said Ram during an interview with The Chronicle. “There is a realization [in the U.S.] that you need to fight terror.”
But following a number of suicide bombing attacks in Israel a few weeks ago, Ram said the U.S. is beginning to realize that “You cannot differentiate between terror here and terror there. I think [there was a realization] that the terror you fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban, you should also wage against Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”
He said that sometimes U.S. and Israeli interests diverge, but more often they converge. One area of convergence is salvaging the moribund peace process with the Palestinians, or at least putting a lid on the day-to-day violence.
“We expect the U.S. to help to enhance the peace process in the Middle East. Not because it is only for our benefit, but because it is in the interests of the United States itself,” he said.
As for the recent Israeli government proclamation that Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat was “irrelevant,” Ram made it clear that the characterization may not be permanent, saying that, “right now he is irrelevant.”
Arafat, he went on, has “no credibility” in Israeli eyes because “not one of his promises has been implemented. Not one substantiated by deeds.”
But as for the future, Ram said that once the dust settles, “A political plan will have to follow the containment of terrorism. Not because of outside pressure, but for our own benefit. It is not enough to only react to pressure, you have to come up with a political plan.”
In the meantime, Ram is concerned about the Israeli economy, which has been adversely effected by both the “world recession” and the continuing violence. He said unemployment is close to “9.5 percent, which is very high” and that tourism has decreased by 50%.
Misses Israeli breakfasts
Ram, 55 and a native of Haifa, is a career diplomat. Unlike U.S. diplomats, whom Ram said are sometimes appointed depending on their political affiliations, the Israeli foreign ministry usually does not appoint diplomats based on political views or by the changing of governments.
“We follow the British tradition of public service,” he said, adding that consul general postings tend to last anywhere from “three to five years.”
Ram has brought a wealth of experience to his new posting. A major in political science and Middle East studies, Ram graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He joined the foreign ministry in 1975.
He has represented Israel in Katmandu, Nepal; Manila, the Philippines; and in 1994, was “the first Israeli consul general in Shanghai.”
Prior to his postings abroad, Ram served as a reserve captain in the armored corps of the Israeli Defense Forces. He fought in the Sinai Peninsula against Egypt in the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Married and the father of two children, Ram has great respect for the American Jewish community. Ram said his primary role is to “cultivate this [close relationship] with the U.S. Jewish community as a whole. I am very interested not only to tell [U.S. Jews about Israel] but also to listen to what the Jewish community has to say. It is something we need to understand, there is always a need to listen. There are concerns among Jews in the U.S. regarding Israel.”
Of course, Ram also engages non-Jews. “Wherever I go, I try to interest the [news] media into meeting with me. The media is a very important target of ours. I meet with editorial boards, brief them on our positions and try to make predictions as far as the conflict is concerned. Our goal is to reach out to non-Jewish audiences.”
Ram said Christian groups have shown an interest in meeting with him or speakers from the consulate office, but “we have not had any requests from any Muslim or Palestinian groups to discuss with us matters concerning the Middle East.”
Being posted abroad over the years has allowed Ram to appreciate aspects of other cultures. Nevertheless, Ram said he longs for the “unique atmosphere” of Israel, specifically, “The sea shore, the summers, the water melons, the humus, the hectic schedule, the night life in Tel Aviv, my friends.”
Most of all, however, Ram said he misses “Israeli breakfasts!”