By Paul A. Anthony, Editor in Chief
The United States and Israel share many attributes, not least of which is a fight against terrorism, an Israeli diplomat told students Monday.
Dana Kursh, vice consul to the Southwest, told members of the leadership and diversity group Love Your Neighbor As Yourself that mutual concerns over safety, technology and economic prosperity make Israeli affairs of prime importance to present and future American leaders.
“We’re a lot alike, Americans and Israelis,” Kursh said. “We share the same values. … We even share the same threats. All of you know exactly where you were on Sept. 11.”
Kursh showed a segment of a Jewish documentary about Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, who was killed when the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated last year.
She used the recent history of American-Israeli space cooperation as an example of shared interests, adding that the cell phone and the AOL Instant Messenger chatting program were products first designed in Israel.
American tourism is a vital part of Israel’s economy, and she later told the Optimist one of her goals was to encourage tourism to Israel.
“My message is to come and visit Israel,” she said. “Part of our fight against terrorism is to maintain our everyday life.”
Suicide bombings have cut heavily into tourism to Israel, although recently it has rebounded. Kursh said a 20 percent increase in tourism last year was overwhelmingly spurred by American Jews and Christians.
Kursh’s visit comes as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has begun making concessions on Israel’s controversial security fence, a miles-long blockade erected along Israel’s border with the West Bank to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers.
The fence is a necessary step to Israel’s security, Kursh said, a step Sharon felt necessary for his people’s safety.
“The sense of security in Israel has been damaged,” Kursh said of the Palestinian suicide-bombing campaign that has killed nearly 1,000 people since 2000. “It changes all of us as democratic states.”
Sharon has suggested he may move the fence, which has been constructed on land claimed by Palestinians in the West Bank, back inside settled Israeli boundaries.
In a question-and-answer session following Kursh’s LYNAY remarks, Michael Lockridge, senior accounting major from San Antonio, questioned whether some in the Muslim world would consider Israel a terrorist state.
“There is no terrorism on the Jewish side,” Kursh responded. “Extremists exist all over the place; if it is an Israeli, he will spend time in a mental institution.”
“What is it that fuels them to hate you so much?” Lockridge asked.
“I have to tell you, they hate you too,” Kursh responded before adding: “There are two sides of the coin. … The Palestinian people are suffering; for this suffering, I’m to be blamed as an Israeli, as well. But the solution is for the Palestinian leaders to stop sending terrorists.”
Kursh said broken agreements by the Palestinian leadership have contributed to the ongoing stalemate between the two sides.
“We can stop building the fence this minute,” she said after the discussion, “the minute the Palestinian leaders will go back to the table to stop the terrorism.”