March 22nd, 2017
Blog Post 1
Note: AJC Transatlantic Director Daniel Schwammenthal and AJC Paris Associate Director Vincent Zappia are accompanying an inaugural delegation of UNESCO Ambassadors in Israel.
The excitement for Project Interchange’s first seminar for UNESCO Ambassadors is by far not limited just to the participants from Croatia, Ghana, Haiti, Kenya, and Tanzania. One rather exasperated diplomat told us that he has been now stationed in Paris for two years and nobody at home finds that particularly interesting or newsworthy. But no sooner had people heard that he was visiting Israel for just a few days, the phone started ringing as friends and family congratulated him for visiting the Holy Land and wanted to know everything about his trip and whether the country was as fascinating as they imagined it.
That’s a challenge AJC Project Interchange and Israel can deal with. And so, having arrived late in the afternoon in Tel Aviv, the group ventured out to Rothschild Boulevard to discover some of the city’ss finest architectural jewels. Thanks to Jewish architects who fled Nazi Germany and later occupied Europe, Tel Aviv is home to some 4,000 buildings in the Bauhaus/International Style, the largest such collection anywhere in the world. This is why, in 2003, UNESCO proclaimed Tel Aviv’s White City, so called because the buildings were painted in shining white, a World Cultural Heritage site, as “an outstanding example of new town planning and architecture in the early 20th century.” This was thus a fitting start for UNESCO Ambassadors who were deeply impressed with the beautifully renovated buildings and Tel Aviv’s exciting night life along (Palm)tree-lined Rothschild Boulevard. “This is just beautiful,” as one diplomat put it. The evening was rounded off with a dinner where Israel’s UNESCO Ambassador Carmel Shama Hacohen officially welcomed his colleagues, setting the stage for the rest of the trip which he would accompany.
Today’s visit was kicked off by Einat Wilf, a former Member of Knesset and Adjunct Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Einat gave participants a tour d’horizon about the history of Zionism and the difficult and ongoing discussion within Israel about what it means to be a Jewish State. The Ambassadors were deeply involved in the discussion, further probing the meaning of Jewish identity as a people and nation and not just as a religion. The discussion also moved to contemporary anti-Semitism in Europe, particularly in France where the Ambassadors are based.
AJC Jerusalem Director Lt. Col. (res) Avital Leibovich then briefed participants about the many security challenges Israel faces at its borders, from Hezbollah and ISIS in the North, to Hamas and ISIS in the South. The briefing came just on the heels of escalation on the Syrian border, giving the discussion particular drama and relevance. Next was a visit to Jafaa and the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, where Ambassadors learned about Israel’s grassroots activities to build bridges with its neighbors. “We are deeply grateful to PI And AJC for giving us the opportunity to experience this country and learn about its challenges and the region,” was how one of the Ambassadors summed up his feelings at a concluding dinner with other foreign diplomats and AJC and PI staff.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Project Interchange.