Japans consul general plays host to Israels counterpart

As Japanese-American business leaders mingled with representatives from the Israeli and Jewish communities over a buffet at the Presidio Heights home of Japanese Consul General Nobuaki Tanaka, they learned that their communities had much in common.

"Both are smart people. Both are building nations from rubble and ashes," said Tanaka, who went on to note that both Israel and Japan have long histories that culminate in the global technology revolution.

The San Francisco reception, held late last month at Tanaka's initiative, welcomed Israeli Consul General Yossi Amrani. Before the buffet doors were thrown open, guests stood listening in the marble foyer to speakers from both communities share their appreciation of each other's communities and the desire to build bridges between the two.

Amrani complimented the Japanese consul general on taking the initiative.

"You give a new rationale for the meaning of diplomats. I spent years in Washington, and believe me, no one is less necessary than us diplomats," Amrani joked.

Amrani added that Tanaka's initiative shows how "consuls general can find ways of reaching out and building friendships."

"Trade relations are booming and we appreciate Japan's friendship," he said.

Discussing technological ties, Yoshihiro Koshimizu, vice president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Northern California, noted that Hitachi has a semiconductor plant in Israel.

Alvin Rabushka, senior fellow from the Hoover Institution at Stanford, told a personal story, culminating with technology:

"When my father left the Ukraine, they were clearing swamps and planting orange groves in Israel," he said. "Now, with the high-tech revolution, there are more Israeli companies on the U.S. Stock Exchange than any other foreign country.

"In the old days we grew oranges. Now we grow software," Rabushka said.

After the welcoming speeches, while juggling plates of sushi and hors d'oeuvres, members of both communities exchanged handshakes and cards. Laughter punctuated the convivial atmosphere and the food soon disappeared.

Both consuls general moved around the room, meeting with their constituents, along with members of each other's communities.

Tanaka looked thoughtful when asked if he thought peace was possible in the Middle East and where Japan stood regarding the new intifada.

"We don't side completely with the Arabs," he replied. "The Israel and American alliance is strong. We have to weigh the balance. We hope that both sides show reconciliation."

When asked about the Arab ban on Pokemon, claiming that the game was a Jewish ploy to turn Arab children away from Islam, Tanaka laughed in surprise.

Then he added, "Remember, Israelis and Arabs are stuck with each other. The only way to survive isn't through hatred."

Sass Somekh and his wife, Eta, discussed what Japanese and Israeli businesses could learn from one another. Somekh, an Israeli who is executive vice president at Applied Materials in Silicon Valley, said, "The Japanese are great at manufacturing, because they know how to be structured. Israelis don't like following procedures."

His wife interrupted him.

"The word describing Israelis," she said, "is halturah, which means 'improvisation.'"

"If you put the Japanese and the Israelis together, they could take over the world," Sass Somekh said.

Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, noted how quickly parties from both sides mingled.

"This shows a true interest in forging ties," he said.

He also observed that the discussion would have been different years ago.

"Ten years ago we would have been discussing issues of discrimination," said Kahn. "Now the agenda tonight is high-tech and business."

Elsewhere in the buzzing, crowded room, Annette Dobbs, honorary director and past president of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, and Dr. Richard Ikeda from Sacramento, were having just such a conversation about discrimination.

"We were turned down in 1969 for an apartment because we were Jews," said Dobbs to Ikeda.

"I had the same experience in Sacramento," replied Ikeda. "I was turned down at a tennis club for being Japanese."

With a glint in her eye, Dobbs said: "When we got turned down at golf clubs, we just built our own." Ikeda burst into laughter, grasping her hands in his.