Israel Today Forum on diversity features voice of experience–Bedouin Israeli Diplomat

November 22, 2013

What’s Happening

Thursday, Dec. 12, 7 pm

Life as a diplomat in Israel’s Foreign Ministry can be a constant challenge. Most of a diplomat’s time is spent representing Israel as a positive, thriving, welcoming country, and always, always combating religious stereotypes, myths and biases perpetuated in the media, and hostility—even hatred—toward Jews.

Ishmael Khaldi knows that he’ll face all of those issues and more in his position as Counsellor for Civil Society Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in London. “Being a diplomat is challenging. Being Israeli is challenging,” says Khaldi.

“Being an Israeli Bedouin Diplomat? That’s even much, much more of a challenge.”

Khaldi will appear at the Sandler Family Campus to, fittingly, discuss Diversity in Israel Today. The event is the first in the three-part Israel Today Forum, presented by the Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and community partners.

Khaldi was born and raised in Khawaled, a Bedouin village in the north of Israel, near Haifa. Until he was eight, he lived in a tent—shepherding flocks, playing with his 10 siblings, and walking four miles to attend an Arab Christian school where he was a glaring minority. He engages readers with tales of childhood in A Shepherd’s Journey, his 2010 memoir.

Recognition of his ambition and intelligence propelled his parents and others to encourage higher education: Khaldi earned a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Haifa and a Masters Degree in International Relations from Tel Aviv University.

Before embarking on his career in the Foreign Ministry, Khaldi served in the Israeli Defense Forces, the Defense ministry and the Israeli Police. After passing a stringent screening and testing process, Khaldi became the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson to the Arabic media during the Disengagement from Gaza, was the Deputy Consul General in San Francisco, and was Middle East and Arab affairs advisor for embattled (and recently acquitted) Foreign Minister Avidgdor Lieberman.

“I refer to myself as an Israeli Bedouin, all those other terms—Arab, Muslim and the ministry terms— at this point are all political, and I believe very much in who I am and what I do,” says Khaldi, “and to speak out is part of who I am. I have found that the vast majority of people, at least the ones I have met, have a plain understanding about Israel—that it’s a Jewish state, there are politics, and that’s it.

“When I come to Virginia Beach, I’m going to pose the issues of rights—equal rights, civil rights, and everything else. While no, everything is not perfect and there may be many things that can be improved in Israel, I do use my honesty, when there is something wrong, I say it—I believe there is no other country like it, particularly among the countries surrounding us. There are Jews, Bedouins, Christians, Arabs, Muslims, Latinos, Africans, and so many more living in Israel. It is a multicultural society where many people do live together well, and that’s one of the things I think makes it so great.”

Khaldi says some of the places he visits, he’s met with open doors and open minds. Other places, he is attacked, shouted at, restricted legally, and blatantly hated.

“When people see me and hear what I have to say, it often surprises them,” he says. “It makes people rethink—they listen, they calm down, and they begin to hear a different message about Israel from the one they think they know, from the things they hear, and from what the media says. To me, this is what a diplomat does—I believe that the relationship between countries is not only to be between government offices, the defense ministry, the foreign ministry, the health ministry…but also with the people.”

The Israel Today Forum is free and open to the community. RSVP is requested. Call 757-965-6107, or email lhenderson@ujft.org.

by Laine M. Rutherford

Letter to the Editor