Shmuel Siso: Israel's Consul General in N.Y.
By: Gad Nahshon
Shmuel Siso, Israel's Consul General in New York City, believed in the American Jewish Community's love for Israel. Back in his home town in Israel, Kiriat Yam, a small town near Haifa, Siso was aware of the pro�Israeli second nature of most of the American Jews but: "Only when I came to America did I learn about the plethora of Jewish organizations. There are many organizations which promote Jewish education and identity," Siso told me in his office located on Second Avenue and 42nd Street, Manhattan.
Siso was born in Morocco and made aliyah to Israel. He is a lawyer by profession. He joined the Likud party and the faction whose leader is the popular David Levy, who like Siso, was also born in Morocco. Siso decided to be a politician and he managed to win the election to the position of Mayor of Kiriat Yam. He was a good mayor. By the way, Kiriat Yam was established by veterans of the Jewish Brigades of World War II. Also the town enjoyed financial support from America.
When David Levy was recently Israel's foreign minister, he appointed Siso, a talented, smart politician without any diplomatic experience, to the position of Consul General in order to replace Colette Avital who left a legacy like her former Consul General Uri Savir. Siso is a popular leader. He expressed honesty by declaring the fact that he must learn the issues. Well it took him around six months to master the problems. And he is on his way to developing his own style and legacy. In a way he is lucky. "Israel today enjoys a great status and prestige. I tend to welcome any constructive criticism of Israel. It just demonstrates the unique place of Israel in America. Even the huge volume of material about Israel in the media is the epitome of Israel's great status inside New York's mainstream public opinion," said Siso, whose English is excellent and helps him to communicate freely with Jewish American leaders.
Siso is not worried about the fact that there are as many organizations, agencies, movements, and task forces inside the American Jewish establishments. He is not worried about the waste of sources or about duplications. Of course it is not easy to navigate smoothly among these entities and their elites: "These organizations express non-stop support of Israel. I think that we should welcome anyone who shows concern to Israel. I only fear the indifference, the bystanders. I also understand and welcome the many ways and routes to link yourself to Israel and to the Jewish Identity," said Siso.
He recently organized a huge Israel at 50 celebration at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan. Many Jews as well as Israelis came to show their solidarity with Israel. "I think that those who are critical of Israel's policies and behavior, those conservative and reform Jews who try to solve the issue of conversion, for example, are devoted to the future of Israel as a strong country. They are worried but their motivation is to make Israel stronger, not weaker. I believe that their motives stem from their love for Israel. The bottom line is very simple: "We need a dynamic kind of Judaism. The dynamics is the answer to indifference,"" said Siso, the youngest Consul General that ever served in New York.
Siso developed good relations with Rudy Guiliani. The two are cooperating in many fields and in the special Israel's fifty year anniversary. They marched together in the Salute to Israel parade. Siso is also active in the field of relations with the Afro�American community. Israel is the only country that officially commemorates the Martin Luther King Memorial Day. Siso organized a special event in his apartment and said: "Since I was born in Africa, in Morocco, I can define myself as Afro�Israel..." Siso promised to reach out to the Spanish-Latino community in New York. This community should be linked to Israel, as soon as possible. This is also a growing political block in America. Jews and Israelis as well, out of historical connections to the Afro�American community, have ignored the rise of the Spanish�Latino Catholic ethnic groups.
Israel, and this is not Siso's omission, has ignored the existence of the Israeli Community in greater New York. The reason is the government does not have a clear policy on budget or a badly needed agency which would have challenged this reality. Sad to say, the American Jewish establishment also has tended to ignore the existence of the Israelis. Siso promised to change the attitude and he wants to link Israelis to Israel but he lacks the policy, the "agency�, and the resources. Even in its 50 year celebration, Israel did not plan any special program for the Israeli's who are living abroad. Israel even ignores the existence of Israeli's second generation. Indeed this is a challenge to Siso who is a populist leader, per se.
We asked Siso to assess the future of Israel in the 21st century: �Until today Israel fought in order to live and survive. Slowly, slowly Israel, in its route to peace and security, moves to the principle question of how we will live. What will be our image. How we conceive ourselves to be. Social justice, clashes or peace between religious and secular Israelis. Would we be a Jewish�democratic state? We have ethnic parties. Well each aliyah gave birth to ethnic parties but they vanished. They had some functions. Their disappearance means that the absorption process was the winner. Their death meant that the melting pot won the battle. This process is the miracle of Israel," remarked Siso, himself an ex�Oleh from Morocco who made it in the Israeli society. His wife, by the way, was born in Argentina. So Siso knows the meaning of Israel's melting pot. No doubt that Israel's "in-gathering" of all of the diaspora Jews is a social miracle, a silent miracle. And a realist is the one who believes in miracles, to quote Ben-Gurion.
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