WASHINGTON – A Druze ambassador and a Bedouin deputy consul general have positioned themselves at the forefront of Israel's PR battle in the US.
Reda Mansour, Israel's consul general to the southeast US, and Ismail Khaldi, San Francisco's deputy consul general, have made round-the-clock appearances on television and radio interviews, published articles, and stood before Muslim protestors who accused them of traitorous behavior.
Mansour, 43, comes from Usafiya. He made history twice in Israel, by becoming the first minority member to be sent on a diplomatic mission, and the youngest ambassador ever to be sent overseas. At the age of 35 he became Israel's ambassador to Ecuador.
He was serving as consul in Atlanta when the fighting in Gaza broke out. "People joked that I should be given a bed at CNN," he recounted. "The first three days were very intense. I was at the studio from 6 am until late at night. There was a lot of curiosity and desire to cover it live… Our presence at the studio was a good thing."
Despite claims that the foreign media in general, and CNN in particular, were biased against Israel, Mansour's experience was different. "During the first few days of the operation in Gaza we had total domination," he said. "When we checked with the Foreign Ministry, it turned out that the ratio of appearances was two-thirds Israeli speakers to a third of Palestinian speakers."
He also expressed satisfaction with Israel's improvement in the field of public relations. "During this war we did better than in other wars. From the beginning of the war the amount of material that came in from Israel was great, full of texts and videos," the ambassador said.
'It would be easier to fight in Gaza'
Deputy Consul General Ismail Khaldi was somewhat less satisfied with the atmosphere in San Francisco, where numerous anti-IDF protests were taking place.
Khaldi, 36, is a Bedouin from the lower Galilee region and a former shepherd. He has been serving as a diplomat for the past four years, and has formerly been charged with the task of explaining the Gaza pullout to the Arab press.
"San Francisco – and especially Berkley University – is one of the toughest regions for PR," he said. "We Israelis are perceived here as the ones who dragged the US into a war with Iraq, and those attempting to drag it into an attack on Iran. They see us as racist."
Khaldi explained that these opinions make his job nearly impossible. "Even the most educated don't know the history of Israel," he said. "They feed off of press that is biased against Israel. Yes there was destruction in Gaza, but they don't understand the reason, and we are always on the defensive."
But the most explosive reactions had come from Jews, Khaldi said. He recounted a visit to Berkley during which a Jewish professor had refused to shake his hand. "He said it wasn't personal, but I was a representative of a racist, child-murdering state. There is an odd phenomenon here of Jews who object to Israel and yell at me, how can a non-Jew be on that side," he said.
Khaldi has also heard deprecating remarks from Muslims who call radio stations that interview him in order to condemn him for siding with Israel. "Sometimes I think it would be easier to be a soldier on the sand dunes of Gaza than here," he said.