Meir Shlomo, Israeli consul, reflects on world events, and ‘OKIE’ ties
By Patrick B. McGuigan
Meir Shlomo, consul general for Israel, works from his nation’s offices in Houston, Texas. He came to Oklahoma City for an event honoring arts advocate Betty Price.
In an interview on Friday (December 10), Shlomo spoke with CapitolBeatOK about what might be the worst forest fire in modern Israel’s history. The conflagration early this month ravaged the Carmel Forest in the northern part of the Jewish nation.
Members of pro-Israel organizations throughout the United States and the entire world are encouraging support. The Jewish National Fund website (http://www.jnf.org/) has detailed the devastation wrought by the flames, and efforts to begin recovery.
At Thursday’s dinner honoring arts advocate Price, many speakers encouraged support for “plant a tree” programs and other practical steps to assist in rebuilding the forest lands and improving Israeli emergency response to fires.
Shlomo said, “The fire was so catastrophic due to the problem of extreme dryness and very strong winds in the area. More than anything what challenged the firefighters was the quick pace with which it spread. That’s the reason we lost a group of firefighters. … They thought they could get away from it, but they were unable to drive out.
“Already 15 countries have responded to help in fighting the fire and dealing with the aftermath of it. We were grateful for the assistance from, of course, the United States, and also Russia, Turkey, Greece, the United Kingdom, France and others. And the Palestinians sent a couple of fire trucks to give a hand, as well.”
Susan Robertson of Oklahoma Israel Exchange (OKIE), the group that honored Price talked about the nightmarish fire: “Flames engulfed a bus, killing all 43 new fire department recruits who were on their way to evacuate Palestinian prisoners. Thousands of acres of forest, over 5 million trees, have been reduced to ashes. …”
At Thursday’s event, attendees were encouraged to fill out forms to help finance tree planning and other activities in the recovery process.
Turning to strategic issues in the Middle East region, Shlomo told CapitolBeatOK, “Unfortunately the negotiations with the Palestinians seem to be stuck on a side issue, the settlements, which seems more important to outsiders than in the area. But we are continuing to talk because the only way to have Palestinians and Israelis living side y side one another is to have some understanding.
“As for the larger circle in the region and in the world, it is important to understand where we are right now. Iran is a major instigator of instability and unrest in the region and in the world. Now it is clearer than ever that their footprints are in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Of course, their development of a nuclear option does not diminish that problem, but intensifies it.
“The question is simple. How aggressive will they be when they do have a nuclear weapon in their arsenal?”
Meir reflected, “Groups like OKIE feed hope. I think most of the issues that Israel faces are the same issues that the whole western world is facing. The issues Israel faces are issues that, unfortunately, eventually become issues for all of the free world.
“These last 10 years have made this all clearer. Israel has long faced the scourge of terrorism and airplane hijacking. In the end, we are all in the same boat, it seems. Iran, it is true, is the most important challenge now facing us all, but they are not the only challenge. It is to build a better future for our children, to establish that structure, that gives hope.
“There is an attitude that some countries wish to go it alone in facing these threats, but no. The survival of an entire way of life in democratic countries is involved, and truly at stake in the challenges that Israel faces.
“This is something that is very hard for many people to understand. Here is my point. People have to be involved to advocate for a better future. Speak up. Work and do all we can to defend Israel in solving these problems, and the way of life involved in our countries.”
Shlomo’s consulate office oversees Israel’s relations in the southwest United States, defined as Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
At the event honoring Price, Miller said, “OKIE is a unique organization, integral in bringing together diverse communities from across the state to work for a common purpose. It is a cutting-edge model for cooperation, partnership, and projects of mutual benefit and is one of the most dynamic exchange / partnership programs between any U.S. state and the State of Israel.”
He pointed to practical economic benefits flowing from OKIE’s work, focusing on “Another noteworthy piece of this year’s repertoire: The formation of NTS, Nanotech Enterprise, a joint venture between an Israeli start-up and Dr. Ken Dormer of the OU Health Sciences Center, which, we are proud to say, was brought together by OKIE.
“Additionally, OKIE has firmly planted the feet of many Oklahomans in the ‘land of milk and honey,’ most recently ‘W2I,’ Women to Israel, a Federation/OKIE mission of high powered, high-heeled girl FRIDAYS.
“OKIE has also sent Oklahoma Governors and First Ladies, David and Rhonda Walters, Frank and Cathy Keating, and Brad and Kim Henry; Governor-Elect Mary Fallin; Secretary of Agriculture Terry Peach; and Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony. Many other dignitaries, state officials, and community members have traveled to Israel together with OKIE for the trip of a lifetime.”
Miller said OKIE is “Based on people-to-people exchanges — at all levels.” The group “facilitates and fosters enhanced cooperation between the State of Israel and the State of Oklahoma in matters pertaining to commerce, culture, education and agriculture.”
Observations and prayers were offered by the three rabbis in Oklahoma City, Abby Jacobson of Emanuel Synagogue, Barry Cohen of Temple B’Nai Israel and Ovadia Goldman of the Chabad Community Center.
Shlomo, who had not visited Oklahoma previously, told CapitolBeatOK the recent OKIE event “was a good sign of how important and good a group like OKIE is, and how effective Susan Robertson is. In fact, I was in New Mexico just last week at the founding of a similar organization for that state. They had invited Susan to come there. In looking for a model they said her approach here in Oklahoma was the best fit for what they wanted to do.”