Jews need to raise voices for Israel, consul general says

Yossi Amrani swears he "knows for a fact" that the Bay Area Jewish community is supportive of Israel. He just isn't hearing enough of it these days.

In the past week, the Israeli consul general has received a multitude of phone calls, "the majority of which are hate calls, shameful calls with terrible threats and terrible language."

He began getting more and more anti-Israel messages when Israeli troops moved into the West Bank two weeks ago. Amrani specifically recalls the second day of Passover when, ducking back into his San Francisco office that evening, he discovered 19 voice messages waiting for him. All 19 were critical of Israel, with some callers going so far as to accuse the Israelis of "pursuing Nazi policies."

"Hearing that, for me as an Israeli and a Jew, is very difficult," said Amrani, whose first day on the job as Israeli consul managed to coincide with the resurgence of the intifada 18 months ago.

"Nineteen negative messages! I was asking myself where are the positive messages? Where are the pro-Israeli messages? Where is the solidarity?"

Amrani's own message is a simple one: If you're supportive of Israel, don't keep it a secret.

"More and more people are identifying themselves as Jewish and saying they're ashamed to be Jewish these days," he said.

"Well, I'm a Jew and I'm proud to be a Jew. I'm an Israeli, and I'm proud to be an Israeli. People who support Israel should not be quiet; there is no reason to be ashamed. I know people want to live their lives, they don't want to be burdened down with my concerns. But those who believe being Jewish is important and Israel is the center of Jewish life need to be active."

Though Bay Area Jewish organizations "have their hearts in the right place," he said, the time has come to "start doing things" and "translate their good will into action."

"Now is the time for action. There is a need for more action. And this action should be strong, unequivocal and unwavering. It should be clear and loud — while polite. But we have been too polite, and not active or energetic enough."

Amrani hopes for major rallies, prayer days for Israel at local synagogues and sermons extolling Israel for starters. A number of recently scheduled pro-Israel events, including the major rally scheduled for Sunday and the large pro-Israel rally in downtown San Francisco on April 5, are an excellent start, he noted.

Regarding the April 5 rally on Montgomery and Sacramento streets outside his office, Amrani said, "I feel terrible for not being down there to support so many people in solidarity with Israel. Due to security reasons, I couldn't be there, but my heart, mind and soul — it's there," he said. "I'm very proud, very happy and encouraged. I think it's important, it's about time, and I'm thankful to the community for having this rally. This is something we in Israel appreciate very much, but more should follow."

"I call on more people to join in," said Amrani. "The community needs to understand that this war was forced on Israel. We started fighting as a last resort when we faced no other alternative. We started fighting when Mr. Arafat incessantly refused to cooperate and perpetrated more and more vicious attacks against Israel. This is no time for bickering, no time for arguments. This is the time to raise voices in support of Israel, the time to recognize Israel's existence as a Jewish state is the issue."

Amrani also called on individuals to become "engaged" and "active." These are broad, far-reaching words in the consul's lexicon. He encourages individuals to write letters to their elected representatives, from city council up to the president. If news reports appear biased against the Israelis, Amrani wants Bay Area Jews to make noise about it. Perhaps most of all, he implores everyone to educate themselves about Mideast history and follow the news closely, especially in the Israeli media.

Even those who are not fans of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and are deeply disturbed by the televised images of tanks rolling through the West Bank must find it in their hearts to express support for Israel in its hour of need, according to Amrani.

"We need to be united. I don't want everyone to endorse our policies; that's not the issue. The issue is, we must support Israel as she fights for her future, her very existence," he said. "The issue is no longer personalities or whether you prefer this party or this politician. The issue is, do you support Israel's existence as a Jewish state?"

Amrani, who has been forced to deal with the intifada since day one as consul general here, admits his job has turned out different from what he expected.

"It has been an uphill battle, an uphill challenge. It is much tougher than I thought it would be," he said. "I came here on the first day of the intifada. Ever since, it has been hectic, busy and challenging. But I'm not giving up. We must never give up our cause. Our cause is the right cause. That's what I'm trying to do here."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.