On Aviv Ezra's office wall, at the Chicago-based Consulate of Israel to the Midwest, hangs a photograph of the infamous entrance to Auschwitz. But it's not the ominous foreground, but rather something in the background of the photo-three grey dots-that Ezra finds most poignant. The dots circling above the camp are Israeli F-16 fighter planes. The picture demonstrates to Ezra, a former captain in the Israel Defense Forces, that never again will the Jewish people be without a country to go home to.
Ezra began his tenure as Consul General last summer, succeeding Roey Gilad. He serves as the official representative of the state of Israel to nine Midwestern states. He, his wife, and their three young children hail from Modiin-Maccabim-Reut, a small community in central Israel.
Ezra previously served in Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of Congressional Affairs, in both Jerusalem and Washington D.C. He also served in Egypt as the economic and commercial attaché and as the Deputy Counsel General in Atlanta.
JUF News interviewed Ezra in late December, the same week that the UN Security Council resolution condemned Israeli settlement in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
JUF News: How do you explain recent actions from the UN Security Council condemning Israel?
Consul General Aviv Ezra: The issue of the settlements is one of the core issues that need to be discussed between the parties and not in a manner that is bypassing one of the parties and therefore creating a disincentive for the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table. In a sense, the [UN]'s move was counterproductive in achieving any progress in the peace process….It's mind-boggling. The entire Middle East is in flames. In Syria, half a million people have been butchered, and 2 million more have been injured… [there's] ISIS…Iraq is destabilized…Iran is [building a] nuclear bomb, and of all the countries, the UN Security Council decides to focus on Israel…The instinct and the easiest thing is always ganging up against the state of the Jews…It's unbelievable that the U.N. General Assembly has supported 20 actions against Israel and maybe only one against Syria
President Trump has promised that there will be no daylight between America and Israel. Are you hopeful about the future relationship between the new administration and Israel?
His statements, specifically focused on the support for Israel, are 100 percent in sync with what we believe is the right direction so we really appreciate it. And, he has spoken about [striving] to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to our capital in Jerusalem, which is something we hope will happen sooner rather than later.
What can Israel teach the rest of the world about hopes for peace?
We are very proud of the fact that we have extended our hands for peace to our neighboring countries and we have managed to achieve at least two major peace accords with two of our rivals-Egypt and Jordan. Therefore, my message of optimism is that it's doable when you focus on the right topics and you create a situation where the platform is acceptable for the two sides to work together and achieve [mutual] goals.
What is your favorite part of your work as Consul General?
The amazing thing is to really touch base with a lot of people who care about Israel. On one hand, I'll go to a shul and meet people who care about Israel from one angle. Then, I'll find myself in a church talking to people who have never been, but know that they love Israel. I'll meet a member of Congress who is highly excited about supporting the U.S.-Israel [relationship] or I'll meet a mayor who understands the importance of cooperating on science, technology, and innovation in Israel… I also support the ability of Israel to defend itself and have a voice in an independent and sovereign matter. During my service, I was very much involved in the missile defense cooperation between our two countries, including the Iron Dome and David's Sling. This wouldn't have been possible without the support of the U.S. Congress, which is an element of cementing Israel's capability of defending itself with the help of our friend, the United States.
What are a few of the greatest challenges you foresee in Israel in 2017?
First, we want to extend our hands for peace to our Palestinian neighbors. The Prime Minister, whom I had the honor of working closely with, has always said that the distance between Jerusalem and Ramallah is just a few miles….We need to sit at the negotiating table without any pre-conditions.
Second, we want to make sure that the influence of Iran in the region will be limited because we see what they're doing in Syria, we see what they're doing in Lebanon, we see how they're arming their proxies, we see human rights abuses, we see how they're focusing on enhancing terrorism around the world, and we think this needs to be at the top of the agenda, regardless of the issue of the nuclear agreement.
Finally, the biggest challenge that I foresee is that there is a changing of the guard happening with the change of generations. The State of Israel is going to be celebrating 70 years soon and this is something we don't take for granted. The [Baby Boomer] generation was born just after World War II and are more familiar with the Holocaust and has a sense [of the enormity] of what happened in Israel in 1948, `67, and `73. But that generation is getting older, and now we're facing an incoming generation who are less familiar with the concept of the Holocaust and don't [understand] as much the importance of having a Jewish state….The responsibility lies not only with the State of Israel, but also with parents and with Jewish organizational life to educate this new generation…and we need to push against issues like BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) and anti-Semitism because the biggest enemy we have
How are you enjoying Chicago and the Windy City's Jewish community?
We're… mishpachah -family. We're very close with JUF and other Jewish organizations and the shuls here, and we're also doing outreach to other communities here. I also want to emphasize that I am the first and only Israeli Consul General in the history of the State of Israel to [get] the Cubs to win the World Series-and I'm taking full credit for it!