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Veteran Israeli diplomat pinch-hits in key New York role

“The story is a very not hard story to sell, but a hard story to tell,” says acting Consul General Aviv Ezra.

Aviv Ezra, then Israel's consul general in Chicago, in 2016. Source: YouTube/Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Aviv Ezra, then Israel's consul general in Chicago, in 2016. Source: YouTube/Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

After Oct. 7, leaders at Israel’s foreign ministry knew that many months of battles lay ahead. That includes a media war, with constant battles to win the narrative, and a fight to protect Jews around the world from the wave of heightened antisemitism that would be unleashed as the Israeli military seeks to stamp out Hamas.

In the media capital of the world, and in the region with the largest number of Jews outside of Israel, they needed a steady, veteran hand, who understood the American Jewish community and the political system.

Enter Aviv Ezra, a diplomat with nearly 25 years of experience who was called upon to leave his post as the No. 2 official at MASHAV, Israel’s international development cooperation program, and take over as the Jewish state’s acting consul general in New York.

“With the atrocities and everything that had happened, I get a phone call from the ministry’s director general saying, ‘Look, we need you.’ I said, ‘Nobody’s gonna take me in Gaza at my age,” Ezra told JNS.

But, with the ministry’s budgets and efforts now focused on the war, Ezra wasn’t wanted in Gaza, but to fill a void in New York City.

Asaf Zamir resigned as consul general there last March in protest of proposed changes to Israel’s judiciary. Then-deputy consul general Israel Nitzan had stepped into an acting role for the remainder of his term in New York, which ended in August.

Tsach Saar, who has not yet led a consulate, took Nitzan’s place as deputy consul general while acting in the No. 1 role while awaiting a political appointment to head the mission—one that doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon.

The political angle

By Oct. 12, Ezra was in the Big Apple and had to hit the ground running in the midst of the storm.

A former Israeli consul general to the Midwest in Chicago and deputy consul general to the Southeast in Atlanta, Ezra also served as consul for congressional affairs in Washington.

He immediately started working the political angle.

“First of all, I went to the decision-makers, which are the elected officials. We reached out to members of Congress, senators, governors, deputy and lieutenant governors, attorneys general and mayors,” Ezra said. “The story is a very not hard story to sell, but a hard story to tell.” 

That’s because, he says, of the unspeakable nature of many of Hamas’s crimes.

Ezra says what has emerged is “a strong, unbelievable, bipartisan, bicameral and transcending administration support for Israel’s right for self-defense.”

Public diplomacy

The second angle, Ezra says, is public diplomacy. 

“That means reaching out as much as we can to tell our story,” he said, which has included interviews with CNN, MSNBC, FOX and the BBC, among other major outlets.

Some outlets, such as The New York Times and the BBC, have been heavily criticized for publishing false and misleading information in order to shine a negative light on Israel, including devastating reports about Israel firing on a Gaza hospital in a supposed mass casualty event early in the conflict. The reporting was later debunked, with the strike attributed to a failed Palestinian terrorist rocket.

“On CNN, I said we are the only free democracy in the Middle East. Why are we presumed guilty until proven innocent and the murderous, vicious terrorist organization is innocent until proven guilty?” said Ezra, telling JNS he received “no good answers.” 

“I think it comes down to that narrative of who is the underdog. And I can make a clear case that we’re the underdog here, but I’m not here to be a victim,” he said. “I just ask them to have moral clarity.”

The family

The third angle is “reaching out to a our mishpucha, our family, which is the Jewish community and also the non-Jewish communities that are very supportive of Israel, and creating these events in which we reach out to them, thank them, and brainstorm together what we can do to push back against challenges that are coming from what I call these pro-Hamas people,” said Ezra, who lamented the fact that the protection of American Jews falls to a foreign government.

“It should be, first of all, the responsibility of the elected officials here, and the communities should push back and say: ‘This is unacceptable. We’re the largest Jewish community outside of Israel. Why should we be afraid?” said Ezra. “Having said that, we are the government of the State of Israel, which is the Jewish state for the Jewish people.”

That has meant meetings with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, New York Mayor Eric Adams, NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban and New York City Department of Education Chancellor David Banks. 

That last meeting came after an incident at a public school in which students attempted to attack a teacher who had posted pro-Israel content on her social media account.

“I said if it was if it was an African-American teacher that would have said they support Black Lives Matter and would have been lynched, what would be the response? We all know. But when a pro-Israel teacher is almost lynched, and nobody is saying anything about it, there’s a name for that,” said Ezra.

Oct 7 ripped the masks off many in the U.S., he said, as vividly indicated by the tepid, startling responses given by a trio of university presidents last week in congressional testimony when asked whether calls for the genocide of Jews go against their schools’ codes of conduct.

“They said it depends on context. Unbelievable. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. This is not Cairo,” Ezra said of one of his other diplomatic postings. “It is unacceptable that Jewish students cannot walk with the Star of David, cannot speak Hebrew in America, cannot wear a yarmulke because they are intimidated and afraid that they will be hit violently in America.”

Feeling of betrayal

He said he was particularly taken by a recent speech by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who spoke of the disappointment that many minority groups who have been supported by American Jewry have either remained silent or stood with Hamas post-Oct. 7.

“I spoke to a very prominent rabbi here who is very big in forming these interfaith coalitions and he signaled this feeling of betrayal that they did not even pick up the phone to express their condolences,” Ezra said. “It’s not about politics. This is about pure evil.”

He indicated that he is not aware of any Arab consulates in New York City reaching out to their counterparts at the Israeli mission following the Oct. 7 massacre.

“I think it would have spoken volumes. But I want to be optimistic,” Ezra said, pointing to the fact that the only two countries with airlines reliably sending flights into Israel on a daily basis are Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

“This sends a strong message. I don’t think that the struggle here is between Israel and the Arab world,” said Ezra. “The struggle here is between moderates and radicalism, between a human factor and inhuman, between freedom and tyranny. This is Chanukah—it’s between light and darkness, there’s no doubt about it.”

He said he’s taking this opportunity to remind those within listening reach that the ultimate root of Oct. 7 is Iran.

“It’s not that we weren’t aware,” Ezra said of the danger Hamas has long posed to Israel. “We either did not believe them, or we kicked the can down the road. And I want to send a message here to the free world: If you continue to kick the can down the road with Iran, it’s going to be dirty and bloody.”

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