(Note: Editor Susan Crowell is traveling with an agricultural trade mission to Israel. This is her first report, filed after arriving in Tel Aviv.)
The perceptions of our group were varied and fluid. There are 28 of us touring Israeli agricultural sites this week and, quite frankly, we don’t know what to expect.
Those of us who have never been here before admit to healthy apprehension of the country’s instability amid a new, anti-Israel Palestinian leadership. Our perceptions are of armed military guards, war zones in the street and a somber spirit.
The reality? “I can’t believe I’ve been in Israel for eight hours, and I have yet to see a gun,” said one participant. “I prepared myself for that.”
What we’re finding instead is that parallel societies exist. One that deals with the Palestinian conflict; a second that is building a high-tech, high-finance economy.
“It’s much more interesting than I expected,” said Richard Jones, U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Ambassador Jones, who spoke to the delegation Feb. 27, said there are greater similarities than differences between Israel and the U.S.
Beyond shared ideals of democracy, the two countries share a foundation as a country of immigrants. In fact, Jones said, Israel’s current wave of immigrants from places like the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia is larger, percentage-wise, than immigration into the U.S.
“It’s a fresh country,” the ambassador said. “It has a new, kind of exciting, feel to it.”
Indeed, driving from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to our first night accommodations in Kibbutz Shfayim Conference Center, we passed the Silicon Valley of Israel, home to the likes of Microsoft, Intel, HP and Cisco. Israel recovered from a recession in the early 2000s, mostly led by exports, by innovation and a shift to high-tech goods and services. Israel is not an agrarian society anymore.
That’s a shift Israel is hoping to show the world, even engaging a nonprofit public relations company to create “Brand Israel,” a marketing campaign to bolster Israel’s image abroad.
The idea is to promote an Israel that’s multi-dimensional, and not just politics and military forces.
“Americans know a lot about Israel, just not the right things,” U.S. advertising executive David Sable told the publication Jewish Week earlier this year.
The government backers, as well as some of the nonprofit U.S. funders of the campaign, are hoping to show and tell Americans that there’s more to Israel than a conflict.
No doubt that’s the hope of some of our hosts on this trip. The trouble is, geopolitical stability is uncertain in Israel, its overlapping Palestinian regions, and neighboring countries.
We can only look beyond the conflict for so long until our attention comes back to the reality.