Challenges and progress in Israel

Eight months ago, I arrived in Atlanta to assume my position as consul general of Israel to the Southeast. It was an honor to be posted to the United States, Israel’s great friend and ally. I heard much about the famous Southern hospitality and I looked forward to working hand in hand with people committed to the same democratic values as Israel: freedom of religion, freedom of speech and equality.

As consul general it is my goal to promote the economic, cultural, academic and political relationships between the Southeastern states and Israel. I have found that the roots of this friendship run deep and are firmly intertwined within the communities I have visited.

I have received a very warm welcome here in Georgia. The consulate enjoys a robust relationship with Atlanta’s Jewish, Christian and African-American communities.

Already I have overseen the signing of two proclamations pertaining to Jewish heritage in the state Legislature and have spoken at several “Nights to Honor Israel” events at churches throughout Georgia. I am also working closely with the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce to bolster economic cooperation.

Next week Israel will celebrate its 63rd birthday. Still in its infancy, Israel has developed at an astounding rate. Israel, smaller than New Jersey in size and with a population under 7.9 million people, leads the world in the development of many trend-setting scientific and technological advancements.

We are first in the world in research and development investment per capita. Industry giants such as Google, Motorola, IBM and Intel all have R&D facilities in Israel. Israel holds the most patents per capita in the world and is the second-most-represented country on the Nasdaq Stock Market after the United States.

Life in Israel is flourishing. Just last year, a record number of tourists (3.45 million), over a half-million from the United States, traveled to Israel to experience the biblical sites, view award-winning performances and sample fare from world-class restaurants.

At the same time, I cannot fail to mention the great challenges Israel faces today. We have enemies who seek our destruction. Iran’s unwavering attempts to produce nuclear weapons and long-range missiles make it an undeniable threat to Israel and the region’s stability.

We see the extent of Iran’s influence through its proxies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, where Islamic terrorists have infiltrated the government only to govern through fear and repression.

It is our cause, as it is yours, to avert terrorism. Like Americans, Israelis will fight to protect our freedom and way of life. We do not ask for one American soldier to defend us, but over the years your moral and financial assistance has enabled us to maintain our freedom in a region that’s often hostile to our mutual interests.

We are grateful to the American people for the $3.2 billion in aid invested in our defense. These dollars ensure Israel maintains its qualitative military edge over potential threats.

The Iron Dome Missile Defense System, deployed in early April, is now successfully intercepting rockets and missiles launched toward Israeli cities.

Sixty-three years is not a long time to exist as a nation state. Despite the obstacles we face, Israel maintains peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and strives to reach peace with the Palestinians and all its neighbors. Israel has excelled in science, technology and the arts.

We have much of our special relationship with the United States to thank for this success. It is this special relationship that I personally cherish and look forward to further fostering in the Southeast.

I invite you all to come to Israel. You’ll never be the same.

Opher Aviran is consul general of Israel to the Southeast, based in Atlanta.

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