Israeli Envoy Builds Bridges Across Multicultural America

Avi Granot, an envoy from the Israeli Embassy in Washington, is actively courting different communities in multicultural and predominantly Christian America.

As the first Israeli to hold the title of liaison to ethnic and religious communities, Granot has an unusual vantage point for gauging shifting sentiments toward Israel.

During a three-day visit to the Los Angeles area last week, he got the opportunity to put that vantage point to the fullest use.

In a single day, Granot had breakfast with Latino leaders, lunch with Asians and attended an afternoon reception for Christian dignitaries.

The evening before, he met with an African American delegation.

Granot believes there has been a dramatic change in American attitudes toward Israel, especially among mainline Protestant churches, since the handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

Indeed, at the breakfast with a half-dozen Latino leaders, there was not even a hint of the critical comments and questions common in past years.

Still, Granot has occasional problems.

At times, he has to defend his government’s policy against evangelical Christians, who believe as fervently as the most nationalistic Jew in the territorial inviolability of the Land of Israel and who question any step that might alter Israel’s boundaries.

Granot also has had to dampen his listeners’ belief in the unlimited capability and clout of Israel and the American Jewish community — two entities often seen as interchangeable or synonymous.

“The expectations of what Israel and the Jewish community can do are unrealistically high,” said Granot. “I generally urge them to stop expecting too much from us. It is better if we can teach them self-reliance.”

The belief in Israeli-Jewish competence was borne out at the breakfast and in subsequent conversations with four women actively involved in the Latino community.

SOME CONCERNS ABOUT JEWISH COMMUNITY

While all listened politely to Granot’s animated opening remarks on the historic accord signed in Washington on Sept. 13, their concerns were closer to home.

The uppermost preoccupation was with what one of the women, Linda Griego, termed “immigrant bashing,” directed foremost at undocumented workers from Mexico and Central America, but deeply felt by the established Latino community as a whole.

With reluctance, the women voiced some concerns about the Jewish community.

“We have many Jewish owners on the East Side in the garment, food and furniture industries, and almost all their workers are Latinos,” Griego said. “We see these men giving big money to Jewish causes, but none to the Latino community.”

Rosa Martinez, a teacher and former mayor’s aide, expressed an apparently widespread perception that Jewish outreach toward minorities focuses on the African American community.

“Jews are much more supportive of blacks than Latinos,” she said. On balance, however, Latino perceptions of the Jewish community appear overwhelmingly positive. There is a strong desire to emulate what Latinos see as Jewish drive, influence, wealth and, above all, unity.

When a Jewish reporter cited his community’s vigorous infighting, Martinez observed: “When it comes to the interests of Israel, you are unified. We don’t have that kind of focus.”

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