HONOLULU—It’s a country the size of New Jersey with a population of 7 million people. As the 20th largest U.S. economic partner with 68 companies listed in the NASDAQ plus the highest number of U.S. patents per capita—more than China, Russia, and India combined—Israel holds a unique position in the U.S. column of friends and allies. The strategic economic cooperation is part of what defines the U.S.-Israeli relationship, according to Israel’s Consul General, Jacob Dayan.
The L.A.-based Dayan is Israel’s senior diplomat in the Southwestern United States and was in Honolulu earlier this month to meet with State leadership to talk about desalination techniques and expanding the use of geothermal energy on Hawaii Island.
In Puna, Israel’s Ormat Technologies provides electricity to 20,000 homes. It’s a smaller plant compared to Ormat’s worldwide geothermal projects. While each of Hawaii’s islands may require different technologies for energy generation, Dayan believes Hawaii is already on its way to sustainability because of increased geothermal energy production and the electric car experiment in which Hawaii will soon engage with the company Better Place, headquartered in Palo Alto, California. Hawaii will need leadership to carry on and accelerate the process of long term strategic planning.
Israel has an enviable relationship with its water management. Hawaii has a jealous relationship with it: Who has what rights to how much and for what purpose. Hawaii has talked for decades about its need for sustainable energy and moved in that direction with some successful pilot projects like increases in solar, wind, and other alternative technologies, plus the 2008 deal inked with Better Place. However, Hawaii’s need for water is still the most basic of all. As the world leader in water recycling, Israel seems to have cornered the market on both the technology and the public mindset: Israel recycles 75 percent of its water. The second highest recycler is Spain at 12 percent.
Hawaii cannot feed itself. We often repeat to each other that 80 percent of what we consume, we ship in. Given what Israel has also accomplished with agricultural water use, Dayan says Hawaii ag can dramatically hike its yield. Like Israel, Hawaii can learn how to literally do more with less.
“It’s not the space; it’s what you do with the space,” Dayan explains. “It’s being effective. The perception of agriculture in Israel has changed. This is why I’m here so we can work on these issues and make this place a more productive place.” To the Hawaii farm bureau he says, “Come to Israel and learn the techniques. None of this is secret.”
It is tough to argue with a country that has the highest number of startups in the world and which, up until 2007, had the fastest growing economy for three years running. Dayan puts it this way: “There is a great deal of dissatisfaction in us. In the Middle East, we say there is the oily country and there is the holy country.” Without oil, he says, Israel has had to rely only on its human capital.
For decades, Israel’s seemingly underdog status has garnered generally high U.S. public sentiment. But in recent years, some of Israel’s actions have changed the way some Americans regard Israel. Many still remember the death of Rachel Corrie in 2003; more recently, the steep escalation of Gaza air strikes against Hamas in retaliation for strikes against Israel in late 2008 and early 2009; and in May, the nine people killed by Israeli soldiers on the Gaza-bound flotilla.
One of those on the flotilla was Hawaii resident, retired Col. Ann Wright. A former career diplomat, now a peace activist, Wright takes issue with Dayan’s June statement at a pro-Israel rally at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles in which he said, “Those who led the flotilla were not peace activists. Those who tried to murder our soldiers were not freedom fighters.”
According to Wright: “The footage that was taken by passengers in our cameras, our cell phones, stuff on our computers—all of which is in the hands of the Israeli government—none of that for 750 passengers has been given back to us. So all the evidence is in their hands and we demand that a truly independent investigation have access to that and then sort out the timeline of when lethal force was starting to be used on passengers.”
Wright adds that she is personally upset that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the panel investigation will only look at reports from both the Turkish and Israeli governments—not the passenger evidence. Wright is also part of a group that plans to sail to Gaza this fall to make another attempt at breaking the blockade. That effort is being capitalized by Americans.
While Dayan does not comment on the status of the passenger evidence, his broader take on Wright and others like her is that those involved in the May flotilla were duped and used.
“They had good intentions,” Dayan says. “They didn’t know they were joining a terrorist organization. ... It’s a terrorist organization backed by a Turkish government that actually recognized this IHH organization that organized the flotilla as a terrorist organization.”
Dayan says Israel now has a PR problem because most people only see a one or two minute news story—and that’s not the whole story. “Look,” he says, “we had nine flotillas before that and all of them ended in a very peaceful way.”
The May flotilla was different. Dayan sees the recent attempts “by Arab countries which lost conventional wars, lost the war against terror where they were the ones trying to impose terror and now are trying to put Israel in such a corner that it will not be able to defend itself. The flotilla is a well orchestrated attempt to delegitimize the state of Israel.”
Because it was a flotilla, Dayan says all involved could not have known what was happening from boat to boat and only on one vessel carried “terrorists preparing to attack the soldiers.” Dayan cites a YouTube video showing people singing about murdering Israelis while preparing knives and says mercenaries were involved.
“We found very strange things on the boat: A few people were carrying more than 1 million Euros in cash in their pockets; there were videos shot in complete daylight showing how Palestinians were beaten although the entire operation was in nighttime so they were preparing those videos in advance,” Dayan says. Another odd part of the video, Dayan says, is that the actual bullets fired were not coming from Israeli weapons because the soldiers were using paintball guns. Dayan admits, however, that actual guns with real ammunition were in the soldiers’ pockets.
Despite the ongoing investigation of the May flotilla, Dayan still characterizes U.S. public sentiment toward Israel as “very high. I saw one of [the latest] polls and more than 70 percent support Israel. Not by coincidence.”
Worth understanding he says is that the United States and Israel cooperate on three simultaneous levels. At the base are shared values. Next is a layer of military strategic cooperation. The highest layer is strategic economic cooperation.
So what does Israel want from the United States now? A most immediate threat to any peace process is Iran and Dayan says many of the Hezbollah terrorists have Iranian passports and are using Lebanon as a base from which to attack Israel. Nevertheless, Dayan says, “Iran is a U.S. problem. It is also an Israeli problem, but foremost it is a U.S. problem,” adding that controls on nuclear proliferation will collapse if Iran is not dealt with directly by the United States, which is already leading a movement to impose sanctions on Iran.
Dayan believes Israelis and Palestinians can live in cooperation and says the West Bank is a model. Growth there has been at least 8 percent over the past few years and Dayan credits the more moderate leadership in the Palestinian Authority. He also says that despite Hamas’ lack of concern for its own population, Israel continues to bring in tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
As to a more permanent situation: “The vast majority of Israelis support a two state solution with the Palestinians,” Dayan says.
Over decades, there have been some periods where peace seemed at hand—more times when the peace process broke down or was shelved. The U.S. “road map” is still gathering dust. What it will take to bring peace to the Middle East has been a question pondered by outsiders for 62 years and fundamentally still hinges on one thing: acknowledgement by Arab nations that Israel has the right to exist.
The full hour interview with Consul General of Israel Jacob Dayan is on the Town Square archive at www.hawaiipublicradio.org.