Gil Lainer, consul for public affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York, is a veteran diplomat with experience as a public relations executive in Israel’s high-tech private sector. He was appointed August 2010.
On July 12, he met with members of the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest in Whippany, where he introduced himself and heard about local efforts in pro-Israel advocacy.
He spoke with NJ Jewish News after the meeting.
NJJN: What is your biggest concern regarding Israel advocacy?
Lainer: Generally, our biggest concern is getting people to put a human face on the Israeli story, educating them that Israel is not a one-trick pony, educating them about the positive aspects of Israel and issues not necessarily highlighted on a daily basis; they are part of our identity.
There is obviously high-tech industry, and there is a lot of interest in the Jewish community and on campuses in it. There is the international cooperation that Israel gives to the world, which was highlighted, unfortunately, through the earthquake in Haiti. That has been done on a regular basis for the last 55 years with agriculture, medical assistance, water treatment, and other issues.
Israel is an innovator in biotech, medicine, and science in general.
Then there is Israeli culture — the new Israeli cuisine.
NJJN: But what about the issues that are highlighted on a daily basis, specifically Israel and its relationship to the Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors?
Lainer: I think the vast majority of the population here doesn’t know much about Israel generally speaking. Let’s put it this way: The public is not as interested in the nitty-gritty of the conflict as we think it is. I am not sure most people are interested in the political situation in the Middle East.
NJJN: Do you see the attempts to delegitimize Israel as a big problem?
Lainer: I think delegitimization is an issue that is discussed a lot in certain circles, but generally speaking it is a non-starter, a non-issue.
NJJN: It doesn’t concern you?
Lainer: If people see it as a problem it concerns me. But on a broader scope, the reason you see that amongst our adversaries is a realization that we are here to stay. It is an attempt to put a dent in the Israeli success story, but I don’t think it is very successful, to be honest with you. People are trading with Israel, people are coming to Israel. We have more tourists than we ever did before.
NJJN: Is Israel advocacy on college campuses a major concern?
Lainer: College campuses is one issue I am in charge of. I wouldn’t say it is a concern. Let’s put it this way: My responsibility is to make sure that Israel’s image is good, both on and off campus. If there is a sentiment that there is a problem on campus, yes. That is part of what I address.
NJJN: What is your advice to Jewish students who may not have encountered much opposition to Israel until they got to college and were confronted by strong pro-Palestinian movements?
Lainer: It is important for them to know they are part of a community that is behind them. It is important for them to have the facts and know the issues being discussed and the proper ways to address them. At the end of the day, Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. We are a country that strives to do the right thing.
NJJN: The Knesset just passed a law that penalizes people or organizations who call for a boycott on Israel or the settlements. How does that affect the notion that Israel is a true democracy?
Lainer: It is a democratic process. The attempt is to highlight how dangerous a boycott is. We have seen it with the Palestinians calling for boycotts and how quickly it became a call for a general boycott of Israeli products. It is a slippery slope, and the idea behind this law is to emphasize that singling out certain communities should not be done through economical means.