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Israel Independence


The big deal that Israel’s 60th is

Rachel Kliger l The Media Line for eTurboNews  Apr 29, 2008

While nearly $25 million is being poured into the lavish celebrations in Israel marking 60 years of Israel’s independence, the country’s representative offices around the world are finding other creative ways to mark the momentous event.

Embassies in the United States and other Western countries have ample budgets to mark the celebrations and enjoy abundant support from local Jewish communities, which are organizing festivities of their own complementing the embassies’ events.

But other embassies have to be more cautious about open celebrations.

In countries where the views of the locals about Israel range from indifference to outright hostility, Israeli officials are toning down the festivities, in accord with local sensibilities.

“We have a problem in doing a big production like they do in the US or in Europe,” said Shani Cooper, spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy in Cairo. “We have to stay limited within our boundaries, and to be honest, we don’t want to do something huge because it will touch a sore spot.”

The embassy is holding a reception for diplomatic staff and government officials, which some 400 guests are expected to attend. The backdrop of the reception will feature slides with Israeli landscapes, an Israeli singer will perform and, while Israeli wines will be served, non-alcoholic beverages will be provided for the observant Muslim guests.
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“In an Arab country, with the current situation of the peace process and the media hostility in Egypt, it wouldn’t be right to do something ostentatious,” Cooper said.

Cooper is stationed in one of the toughest Israeli missions and faces many challenges as spokeswoman. Israel and Egypt signed a peace accord in 1979 and have full diplomatic relations. However, the views of Israel in the streets of Cairo, as reflected in the Egyptian media, remain very negative. The relationship is often described as a cold peace.

The Israeli embassy in Amman, the Jordanian capital, is also opting for a respectable, albeit low-key event.

The two countries signed a peace deal in 1994.

“We have certain security limitations, so we’re restricted in terms of the venue,” said Itai Bar-Dov, spokesman for the embassy.

For security reasons the event will not be held in the open or at a hotel but at the embassy itself, which will provide an all-Israeli produce spread, including Israeli made cheeses, to be dispatched to the neighboring country ahead of the event.

The embassies, as well as the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, declined to comment on security measures throughout the festivities. However, all admitted that tight security was not just on account of the independence celebrations; security was tightened around Israeli interests around the world after the assassination 'Imad Mughniyah in Damascus on February 12. Arab capitals believe Israel’s overseas intelligence agency was involved in the assassination.

“We’re not specifically changing anything for the celebrations,” Bar-Dov said. “The security here is tight enough.”

Security concerns for Israeli officials overseas are not unfounded.

Three months ago the Israeli embassy in Mauritania was the target of a shootout in which three people were wounded. The terror attack is believed to have been an Al-Qa’ida operation.

Israel’s embassy in Mauritania is hardly an obvious terror target. In fact, many Israelis do not even know this country exits, let alone that it is the only member of the Arab League that has held full diplomatic relations with Israel continuously for nine years.

Boaz Bismut, the Israeli ambassador to Mauritania, sounds unperturbed about the security threat, although he is not indifferent to it.

Elsewhere, in Western countries, the festivities will be more open.

The Israeli embassy in London is holding a reception for up to 1,000 guests. In addition, the local Jewish community is organizing several Israel solidarity events that are sparking counter-demonstrations from pro-Palestinian organizations.

Jenny Najar, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said a rally on May 10, two days after the official events in Israel, would counter what she called Israeli propaganda about the 60th anniversary.

“It’s also to commemorate the Palestinian Naqba, the events of 1948 and to point to the right narrative of what happened,” Najar said.

Other British organizations participating in the rally say the suffering of Palestinians is “no reason for celebrations.”

The Israeli embassy in London is not treating these demonstrations lightly, but officials there feel these pro-Palestinian organizations are not as influential as they make themselves out to be, and there are no plans to actively offset the rallies.

“Our campaign is 365 days a year,” said Lior Ben-Dor, spokesman of the embassy in London. “The calendar is full of events that our ill-wishers use as excuses to harm us, whether it’s the assassination date of Fathi Shiqaqi, Naqba day, or the day Israel was founded. We are on alert all year round, including Independence Day.”

In the US the celebrations in some cities are extending beyond the boundaries of the Jewish population.

In Houston, home to more than 45,000 Jews, the Jewish community recently held a parade in honor of Israel’s 60th Independence Day celebrations, attended by more than 2,000 people.

Police cordoned off streets for participants, Jews and Christians alike, who marched nearly a mile with Israeli flags.

“There were no opposing demonstrations, even though we did prepare for that,” says Asher Yarden, the Israeli consul general in Houston.

“The 60th celebrations are an expression of solidarity with Israel, and here at the consulate we strive to garner support among the American public for Israel and bring about political support,” Yarden said.

Other global events in which Israel’s 60th birthday is being marked include international book fairs in France, Italy, Belarus and Poland. The Paris literary event hosted a high-level delegation of guests from Israel, including Israeli President Shimon Peres and 40 leading Israeli writers. The event was boycotted by many Muslim countries, which were angered by the decision to make Israel the guest of honor.

Bismut and his counterparts in Egypt and Jordan could only dream of having Israel being granted tributes like that in their host countries.

Nevertheless, Bismut points out a plus side of representing Israel in a country such as Mauritania, where a dollar stretches a lot farther than it does in Western embassies.

Part of the budget allocated for the festivities is being invested in an impoverished suburb of the capital called Toujounine. The money is being spent on developing women’s cooperatives such as textile-dyeing and sewing workshops, providing them with a vocation and expanding their working opportunities.

Bismut believes this is a groundbreaking initiative that could help improve Israel’s image, especially since the governor of this area is an Islamist, who opposes relations with Israel.

“The hundreds of people who will benefit from this will remember it as a present from Israel,” he said.

The big deal that Israel’s 60th is
Photo by Nelson Alcantara



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