Israels Druze consul returns home a positive symbol

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Mansour, who returns to Israel next month, is one of only a handful of Druze the Israeli foreign ministry has ever posted to an embassy or consulate.

That distinction once made him the target of a scathing front-page story by an Arab American newspaper in Los Angeles, where Mansour had traveled for an event supporting the peace process. Mansour is so proud of his work for peace that he framed the article and displayed it on his office wall.

But despite the unusual nature of his position, Mansour says his Druze background generally did not influence the way he was treated or perceived here.

"After people got to know me, it wasn't an issue anymore," he says. "I was treated and accepted like any other consul. The fact that you're an Israeli representative is so strong, much stronger than one's personal background."

Still, there's little doubt that Mansour's personal background informed the decisions he made as consul, a position second in command to consul general.

He made it his business, for example, to bring an array of cultural events to the area. Those he chose were distinctly multicultural in tone, because he believed these would appeal to Bay Area audiences and because he wanted to showcase the Israeli diversity he knows so well.

Among the events he helped bring to the area were Bustan Abraham, an Arabic-Jewish jazz group that fuses Eastern and Western music through a pulsating blend of exotic instruments; and "Naomi," Israeli actress Ruby Porat-Shoval's award-winning one-woman show about a young Bedouin woman. He staged a joint poetry reading by Israeli Arab Naim Araidi and Israeli Jew Mira Meir.

Some of the events, such as a concert joining Israeli rocker David Broza with Palestinian musician Nabil Azam, took place in major venues like San Francisco's Great American Music Hall .

"Before I came, you had the traditional diplomatic kind of culture where you would once in a while have a concert in the consul general's home," Mansour says. "I wanted to change this, to bring [Israeli culture] to as many people as possible."

Had Mansour served as consul here during a more tumultuous time in Israel's political history, he may not have had the luxury of focusing so much attention on Israel's culture. A published poet committed to promoting the arts, Mansour penned an emotional paean to the murdered Yitzhak Rabin that included the phrase "Prime Minister, My Prime Minister."

His service here started around the time of the famous September 1993 Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn. As the peace process gained momentum over the last several years, he felt freer to direct his energy toward issues other than politics.

Consuls who served here at the height of the Palestinian intifada, he notes, often dealt with frequent demonstrations, hostile phone calls, letters and newspaper editorials.

Because the peace process raised Israel's status in the eyes of many Americans, "We started to organize many more events that focused on the positive sides of Israel," Mansour says.

Though he is leaving, Mansour expects the consulate's emphasis on culture to continue. Shlomit Barkan, wife of Consul General Nimrod Barkan, is heading the consulate's department of cultural affairs.

Because events staged here over the past several years have been successful, Israelis concerned with literature and the arts now recognize the Bay Area as a cultural center, Mansour says.

As a result, he adds, "This is the reason more culture will come here."

With his wife, Mona, and sons Soli and Daniel, Mansour will return to the northern Israeli Druze village of Isfiyeh and he will work for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. Mansour's replacement, Eran Etzion, arrives in early August.

As he prepares to leave, Mansour says he will miss the Bay Area's physical beauty, its political vitality and ethnic diversity, among other things.

"I'm probably going to be the best promoter for San Francisco in Israel," he says.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.