June 20, 2024
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JNF Welcomes Israeli Consul-General Asaf Zamir to NY

On October 28, JNF major donors were introduced to Asaf Zamir, Israel’s new consul general in New York at a reception at NYC’s JNF House. Steven Shalowitz, JNF Israel Podcast’s host, interviewed Ambassador Zamir in a fireside chat.

JNF National Chairman Jeffrey Levine presented the new consul’s biography. Born in 1980, Zamir lived in Sarasota, Florida before returning to Israel. After serving in the Israeli Air Force, he earned a law degree at Tel Aviv University. In 2008, under Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s Rov Ha’Ir party, Zamir was elected deputy mayor. In April 2019’s elections, he entered the Knesset as part of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s Blue-and-White Party. In the national unity government in May 2020, PM Netanyahu appointed him minister of tourism. Later that year he resigned, calling for new elections. His wife, actress Maya Wertheimer and their daughter, Asia, will move here soon.

Shalowitz opened the chat, “All of us are cheerleaders for Israel. What message do you want to share with the American Jewish community on how they can engage with Israel, not only for people like us, already involved, but for those that aren’t engaged with Israel already?”

Zamir responded, “I acknowledge we have many cheerleaders in this country. I want to make sure that the team plays well enough to deserve these cheers.”

He added, “I don’t come from diplomacy, but from politics. … Growing up here and until two years ago, I was an American citizen. I had to give up dual citizenship when I was elected to Parliament. Having dual citizenship, I also felt a sense of dual identity. I could be an honest broker to both sides. It’s not just coming here and telling Americans about Israel. It’s also representing American Jewry, towards Israel and the Israeli government, and it’s a relationship with two sides. We have a new administration here; we have a new administration in Israel. Understanding that gap and its consequences, my job will be to close that gap, and reconnect Israeli Jews and American Jews, more so with the younger generation. They’re not from a bad place; they don’t feel any connection and don’t have the tools to understand why Israel cannot exist without the Jews of the world, and why Jews cannot exist without a strong Israel.”

Shalowitz then asked, “In light of increased antisemitism, how do you plan to engage those who are not Israel supporters?

Zamir offered, “In the US, Jews and non-Jews overwhelmingly support Israel and will continue to. Another growing group has diverse motives, sometimes for political reasons, sometimes with legitimate criticism. I made a career criticizing governments in Israel. It’s super legitimate to criticize any government. I see certain areas where the line’s been crossed between the legitimacy of criticizing and using that to service our enemies, undermining Israel’s legitimacy, for its right to exist. And then from Israel, to Judaism, and I hate that.”

He added, “In an interview with Ben and Jerry, they’re asked why they haven’t stopped selling ice cream to Texas. We saw the cancel culture we live in. Everything is black or white. If you break on one issue, you’re illegitimate. That can’t work. It’s shallow, aggressive and unfair.”

Next, Shalowitz asked, “JNF has launched a campaign called ‘Conversations on Zionism—Reclaiming the Narrative.’ What’s your definition of Zionism?”

“Zionism,” according to Zamir, “is the eternal right of Jewish people to exist in Israel, and the right to exist as the Jewish state. People define Zionism as the right to a Jewish and democratic state. A Jewish democratic state is an ongoing process, and can’t fully exist together.”

Noting most attendees couldn’t visit Israel recently, Shalowitz asked the former minister of tourism, “Do you have a favorite spot in Israel?”

Zamir stated, “Jerusalem is the most important place in the world. All of Israel is wonderful; what the Israeli people built with you together, the past 73 years, is a wonder. This was a small country, with no natural resources. We built something truly amazing. My favorite spot outside of Tel Aviv is Eilat, where I was married.”

He noted, “Tel Aviv is home to everyone, secular, religious, Jews, Muslims, Christians. It has more streets named after people in the arts and culture than any other.” Zamir acknowledged hosting 100 dinners in Tel Aviv for JCRC-NY missions for our area’s elected officials.

Zamir concluded, “I’m happy to start my tenure with an open door to convey a message to Israel or to try to think together because I do believe it’s a two-way partnership.”

Zamir was then presented with an updated version of JNF’s historic tzedakah box.

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