Marco Sermoneta will replace Shlomi Kofman as Israel's S.F.-based consul general at the end of July.
Marco Sermoneta will replace Shlomi Kofman as Israel's S.F.-based consul general at the end of July.

Meet Marco Sermoneta, Israel’s globe-traveling new S.F.-based consul general

When he takes over this summer as Israel’s consul general for the Pacific Northwest, Marco Sermoneta will bring with him to San Francisco what he modestly calls “add-ons.”

The Israeli diplomat speaks five languages, and his resume includes an impressive list of former postings. He was Israel’s ambassador to Colombia and several Caribbean nations, held high positions at embassies in Canada, Japan and Ireland, and also served as a counselor with Israeli missions to the United Nations and NATO.

It’s a wealth of experience he believes will help him as he takes on the task of representing Israel in Northern California, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

“Having dealt up-close with issues in the multilateral arena has given me the tools to be able to project Israel in a variety of ways,” he said in a sit-down interview with J. at the consulate in San Francisco. “In a diverse environment like this one, being able to tell Israel’s story on those issues is definitely an added value.”

Sermoneta, 54, will replace Shlomi Kofman, who will wrap up his five-year assignment at the end of July. The new consul general can’t wait to get started in what he calls “one of the most percolating, creative regions in the world.”

He said he is drawn to “the tech companies, a very lively, very diverse pluralistic Jewish community and a very interesting Israeli community in the tech sector.” Sermoneta cites the historic memorandum of understanding between Israel and California, signed in 2014 by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Gov. Jerry Brown, as an ongoing opportunity. That agreement, with support from the California Legislature in 2015, expanded mutual cooperation on such issues as climate, technology and water conservation.

Telling our story is showing how we have been able to quickly become a nation that impacts the entire world for the better.

Sermoneta also looks forward to connecting with the synagogues, institutions and agencies that keep the Bay Area Jewish community humming, citing as examples the Jewish Community Relations Council, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, American Jewish Committee’s local office and the Anti-Defamation League.

“I’m no stranger to what they do,” he said. “As allies, I understand the different priorities and nuances of each organization, but we are the consulate general of the Jewish state, and we have a commitment to these organizations and communities.”

The Bay Area has at times been a hotbed of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activity, with boycott, divestment and sanctions initiatives and antisemitic attacks all too common. Sermoneta describes himself as “a zero-tolerance person when it comes to antisemitism.”

“I don’t get confused when there is an attempt to discuss pseudo-academic jargon like anti-Zionism,” Sermoneta said, “and try to convince the uninformed it is anything but antisemitism. This, however, is not where the main effort of this consulate will be. These phenomena, as worrying as they may be, are not going to distract us from keeping our eyes on the important issues on our daily or long-term agenda.”

If his name seems decidedly non-Hebraic, it’s because Sermoneta was born in Rome to a family whose Italian connections date back centuries. The family made aliyah when Sermoneta was 5, arriving in Israel the day before the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He has memories of his kindergarten teachers taping the windows and of his father covering the headlights of his car.

As a junior in high school, he joined a six-week youth program sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He spent time in several Midwestern cities serving as a young emissary representing Israel. But it was a mid-1980s meeting in New York City with Netanyahu, at the time Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, that persuaded the 17-year-old to pursue a career in the diplomatic corps.

After a stint as a reporter with the Jerusalem Post, he became a cadet in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His first major posting was in Dublin, Ireland, but he also served as secretary in the ministry’s department of human rights and department of religious affairs. He returned to the U.N. as counselor to Israel’s mission, and then managed Israel’s NATO desk (Israel is a major non-NATO ally) before taking on those senior posts in such capitals as Tokyo, Bogota, Ottawa and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Sermoneta attributes his success as a diplomat to the fact that “you have to be a people person first and foremost.” Having served around the world in a variety of cultures, he said his job is “to find a way to bring me closer to them and them closer to me. How different can we be at the end of the day?”

More importantly, he enjoys the opportunity to tell Israel’s story and to build bridges between other nations and the Jewish state.

“Telling that story means finding the ways we can work together for the benefit of both sides,” he said. “Some [nations] have been around for hundreds of years. We have the benefit of having been a culture and a people that have been around for thousands of years, but we only recently re-established ourselves as an independent state, so we had to catch up fast, and that’s what we did. Telling our story is showing how we have been able to quickly become a nation that impacts the entire world for the better.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.