We hear you’re coming to Israel, Mr. Vice President — and we’re looking forward to welcoming you back.
We know your visit, which continues the longstanding tradition of vice presidents coming to Israel, will be brief and that your itinerary is packed with important commitments. But rumor has it that you have an opening in your schedule, so perhaps you and the Second Lady would consider filling it with an alternative engagement, one that will allow you to explore the values shared by our two countries.
Freedom and democracy. Fairness and equal treatment under the law. The pursuit of justice that can only be achieved by recognizing right from wrong. These are bedrock values that underpin Israel’s society as they do America’s. As you said so eloquently last month in marking the anniversary of the UN vote authorizing our Jewish state’s creation: “We stand with Israel because the bond between our nations was knit before either of them came to be.”
So we’d like to introduce you to some inspirational Israelis we think you’d enjoy meeting. In many ways, they’re typical — just ordinary men and women. But each of them personifies values that you recognize and that, through their special Israeli expression, make our country so extraordinary and the US-Israel alliance so remarkable.
1. Diversity and Tolerance: Like the US, Israel is home to multiple ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic groups that coexist surprisingly peaceably. This is no accident. It takes constant effort to strengthen mutual tolerance and make diversity a source of strength and unity rather than of conflict and division.
Yaron Kanner is a social entrepreneur devoting his life to strengthening our diversity. Yaron heads the Hinam Center for Societal Tolerance, fostering dialogue and interaction by members of various Israeli communities. Hinam’s flagship “My Israeli Brother” program takes a diverse group of Israeli youths on a voyage in their homeland. Over several months, the group lives in an Arab village, a Haredi community, and a neighborhood with large numbers of Ethiopian Israelis, among others. “We seek to get people thinking outside the box,” Kanner says. “After a while, people begin to see people for who they are, and not according to a stereotype.”
2. Equality and Inclusion: Age-old Judeo-Christian values of social justice power Israeli ingenuity in all manner of fields, including helping those with disabilities realize their potential and pursue their dreams.
Though only 33, Adi Altschuler is already a veteran pioneer in this area. After volunteering during her school years with children with disabilities, Adi saw greater opportunities for them to mix with the rest of society. This led her to create “Krembo Wings,” a unique youth organization that brings youngsters aged 7-21 with mental and physical disabilities together with their able-bodied peers for social activities. With dozens of branches across the country, it’s pushing back the frontiers of inclusion – so much so that TIME Magazine recognized Adi as one of the world’s 2014 Next Generation Leaders.
An ultra-Orthodox former yeshiva student, Moshe Friedman, takes a entirely different tack to achieve equality and inclusion. Realizing that Israel’s hi-tech industry offered his impoverished community a chance to live in dignity, he co-founded and heads “KamaTech,” a start-up accelerator and tech incubator that helps Haredim integrate into the workplace. With support from our late President Shimon Peres and from hi-tech corporate partners such as CISCO, Moshe’s team has helped hundreds secure funding for start-ups or find jobs in this dynamic and rewarding sector, breaking down barriers, and making Israel a more equal and inclusive society.
3. Humanity and Generosity: Meet Masad Barhoum, MD. Born and raised in Haifa, he became the first Arab physician to head a major Israeli hospital in 2007. The Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, though, isn’t just any hospital. It serves Israel’s multi-ethnic western Galilee region and, since it’s only a few miles from the Lebanese border, specializes in treating trauma – especially trauma caused by war.
Under Dr. Barhoum’s leadership, the hospital leveraged these characteristics in a powerful expression of Israelis’ own fundamental decency and generosity. It began treating casualties from the civil war across the border in Syria. That’s right, it’s treating Syrians. Arabs. “The enemy.” Men, women and children. Thousands of them. No questions asked. “This is our way,” Dr. Barhoum wrote recently in Newsweek. “This is the way of Israel, my country.”
4. Destiny and Exceptionalism: Why are we Jews insist on living right here, in the Middle East, surrounded by implacable enemies? Because it’s our destiny to build our future here, in our historic homeland, and from here to help make our troubled world a better place.
Yael Raz Lachyani exemplifies this higher purpose. While maintaining a successful career and raising her children, Yael is spokesperson for Nachal Oz, her kibbutz, that sits on the border with Gaza. Despite years of shelling, shooting and threats of tunnel attacks, she and thousands like her have not abandoned their homes, nor — despite the suffering and danger — have they lost sight of a better future. In a recent visit, UN Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres spoke of how “deeply moved” he was not only by their resilience, but by their commitment to peace and concern for the welfare of their Gazan neighbors.
5. Liberty — and the Love of Liberty: While Israel’s democracy is vibrant and boisterous, Israelis don’t just exercise their liberties. After centuries of subjugation, we cherish them — and cherish others who do too.
It’s not easy when you’re vice president, but if you can swing it, stop your motorcade somewhere and chat to “Yossi Six-Pack,” the Israeli in the street. You’ll hear opinions on everything from the peace process to religion’s proper role in a modern society to the future of the Bitcoin.
Whatever our widely-varying views on the issues that preoccupy us, their very expression reflects our liberty – our freedom to believe, speak and live as our consciences dictate. You’ll also sense something else: the deep respect and affection that Israelis from across our society feel for the world’s greatest champion of liberty, the United States.
This is the Israel we hope you’ll see, Mr. Vice President. The Israel that we find ourselves fighting to preserve. It’s the Israel that thanks you for the example your great nation sets for a troubled world — and for the bipartisan friendship that has helped our tiny island of liberty thrive.