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Israeli Consulate Hires Non-jews to Forge Links with Ethnic Groups

April 29, 2002
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Without much fear of contradiction, Mark Paredes observes, “I think I’m the only biracial Mormon representing the State of Israel abroad.”

Paredes, a personable bachelor in his early 30s appointed earlier this year as press attache at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, has other claims to distinction.

He speaks seven languages fluently — English, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Portuguese — and served as a U.S. foreign service officer in Mexico and Tel Aviv. He studied at Brigham Young University, University of Texas — and the Moscow University of Steel and Alloys.

Paredes was born in Bay City, Mich., the son of a white mother and a black father, though he was raised by a Chilean stepfather. He joined the Mormon Church at age 11 and served as a missionary in southern Italy. In line with his religious upbringing, he has never drunk alcohol or smoked a cigarette, and he doesn’t swear.

However, it wasn’t necessarily the latter virtues that convinced Consul General Yuval Rotem to hire Paredes as spokesman and liaison to the African-American and Christian communities.

“When I first came to Los Angeles in September 1999, I realized that to promote Israel’s interest in as diversified an area as this city and the southwestern region of the United States, I had to reach out beyond the Jewish community,” Rotem says.

The need to hire people with a natural feel for non-Jewish communities struck Rotem when he visited Utah, where the Mormon Church is a key influence, during an initial trip to the states within his jurisdiction.

His first non-Jewish hire was Lauren Foster — whose roots are in the Mormon Church — as his liaison to Utah, on top of her job as the consulate’s director for academic affairs.

Next, Rotem turned his attention to Los Angeles’s Latino community, the largest in the United States and one that plays an increasingly crucial role in California and national politics.

He appointed Naomi Rodriguez, a young woman with experience in Latino culture and politics, as his community affairs specialist. One of the fruits of her labor was last month’s yacht cruise, which brought together 100 Latino leaders and an equal number of Jews for a casual evening of Jewish and Mexican cuisine, Israeli and Latino music and multicultural networking.

“It’s funny how it took a foreign diplomat to put this together,” observed one participant, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Rodriguez is leaving to work for Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, but Rotem was so impressed by the effectiveness of her work that he is interviewing for a successor.

Paredes got a quick start on his job when he arranged for consular staff to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the AME Church, the city’s premier black congregation.

Police Chief Bernard Parks and other top African-American officials participated in the event, Rotem says.

“We received a terrific welcome,” he says. “It was unbelievable.”

Paredes, who worked in the economic section of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv from 1994 to 1996, may be the only person who can compare the styles of American and Israeli diplomacy from the inside.

“In the U.S. foreign service the rules are very clearly defined,” he says. “The Israeli service is less hierarchical, more open and has more flexibility.”

That flexibility clearly is part of Rotem’s modus operandi. His regular budget does not provide for the special community liaisons, so he pays their salaries through local fund raising.

Rotem says his unorthodox initiative has been warmly endorsed by his boss, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Following his example, the Israeli consulates in Houston and Miami also are considering employing Latino liaisons.

“I think it reflects Israel’s growing sense of maturity that there is room for non-Jews to represent us,” Rotem says.

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