Connections, charm resonate for departing diplomat

Opher Aviran is heading back to Israel after five years as Israeli Consul General to the Southeast.

The posting of Israeli Consul General to the Southeast is a daunting assignment: six states to cover, including hundreds of universities, thousands of elected and appointed officials, as well as innumerable economic and cultural partnership opportunities.

Faced with this, I found that upon my August 2010 arrival to Atlanta with my family, we were immediately welcomed with open arms and warm regards in the spirit of Southern hospitality. This atmosphere makes my imminent departure bittersweet, as I look forward to returning home to Israel while leaving behind many friends.

The United States and Israel possess an unparalleled alliance, united by our shared democratic values. However, this common commitment also means we are both susceptible to threats by those who do not value life or liberty.

In the Southeast, we are addressing these challenges together.

The Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) fosters homeland security and defense collaboration between authorities in Georgia and Israel. In aerospace, the partnership between Lockheed Martin, Gulfstream, and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has improved reconnaissance and special operations aircraft for both states.

We have also countered our shared threats with public demonstrations, standing as a united front. When Israel has been under attack, Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed have stood proudly and voiced their unwavering support for the State of Israel and the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Under the leadership of Mayor Reed, Atlanta has proven to be a strong partner, specifically in the field of cyber. In March 2015, Mayor Reed led a City of Atlanta delegation to Israel, where he addressed attendees of Israel’s Cybertech Conference and Exhibition, the largest exhibition and conference of cyber technologies outside of the U.S.

Georgia Tech has contributed to the growth of Atlanta’s cyber reputation, and will serve as the host venue later this year for the Baker Donelson “Israel and the American South Initiative,” a forum on cybersecurity.

On the state level, the June 2014 delegation to Israel led by Governor Nathan Deal was a reflection of the strength and potential of the Georgia-Israel relationship. I was honored to accompany the delegation, especially during the visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial and Museum. It was a moving experience to be there with friends, including First Lady Sandra Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens, as well as Georgia Commission on the Holocaust Executive Director Sally Levine, who used the experience to improve Holocaust and civil rights education for Georgia students and teachers.

Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit has earned it the title, “The Start-Up Nation.” The visits by Mayor Reed and Gov. Deal reinforce the value we see in mutual investment between Georgia and Israel, specifically through business and academic partnerships.

An informational meeting during Gov. Deal’s trade mission became an economic reality with Georgia Power’s announcement of the creation of a solar field in Brunswick by Israel’s Energiya Global.

Throughout my posting, meetings with the leadership of Georgia’s top academic institutions, including the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Emory, Georgia State, Morehouse, Spelman, Columbus State, and Kennesaw State University, have led to the establishment of exchange programs and countless programming opportunities.

I have also been proud to share the best of Israeli culture with Georgia through partnerships with such cultural bodies as Georgia State University’s Rialto Center for the Arts, Kennesaw State University’s Department of Dance, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, the Atlanta Jazz Festival, the Atlanta Ballet and the Atlanta Opera.

My achievements are made possible with the hard work of many individuals, including the two Deputy Consuls General during my tenure, Sharon Kabalo and Ron Brummer, as well as the Consulate staff and partners such as the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Conexx, formerly the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

Aside from these professional accomplishments, I reflect on Atlanta as a home for me and my family. Wherever we went, we were always met with the warmth of Southern hospitality, an Atlanta charm we will always cherish.