Ambassador Aharoni with Penny S. Tee

Ambassador Ido Aharoni, Israel’s Foreign Service and Branding Expert Speaks for the Jewish National Fund

Penny S. Tee Article

Let me start with an aside about which I am honored and excited before I discuss a worthwhile fundraiser I attended for the Jewish National Fund, where Israel’s Ambassador Ido Aharoni was the keynote speaker.

Who is a new member of the Jewish National Fund’s Speaker’s Bureau? Penny S. Tee, woohoo! I am thrilled! I was recently honored by being invited to join the Jewish National Fund’s Speaker’s Bureau. Do you know what the Jewish National Fund does? Since their founding in 1901, their driving focus has been to “ensure a strong, secure and prosperous Israel for the Jewish people everywhere.”

Inspired by the voice of Theodor Herzl, known as the “father of the State of Israel,” JNF helped re-establish our ancestral Jewish homeland and ever since have helped build what we see today as modern Israel. With their continuous support of Israel, they move forward with a bold One Billion Dollar Roadmap for the Next Decade fund invested in a range of initiatives, focusing on three core areas of expertise:

  • Connecting the next generation to Israel
  • Developing infrastructure for ecology, special needs, and Heritage Preservation Campaign.
  • Community building in Israel’s north and south

I think their initiatives of education, leadership, heritage preservation, research and development and supporting Israel through improvements in infrastructure while bridging the gap with American and International Jews is awesome! Don’t you?

Do you see why I am so excited? JNF’s and Ambassador Aharoni’s missions synchronistically connects with my same aim…promoting the truth and positivity that is Israel, a vibrant, brilliant and courageous country that continually receives a distorted, negative rap internationally.

It’s the same reason why I wrote my book that will be out this fall. It’s about our family vacation to Israel, July 2014 when we found ourselves in the middle of war!

As we were on the plane on July 4, bombs began bursting in air in Israel launched by Palestinians, and Iron Dome (Israel’s anti-missile air defense system) protected and prevented thousands of Israeli deaths. The plight of Israelis and now my family caught my attention! Well, it’s not exactly what the tour operators planned, but Israel’s unfortunately always an unpredictable environment. Being human targets made me want to work on Peace—a beautiful result of a terrifying experience. I’m still trying to get over the Jewish guilt of taking my son to war for his Bar Mitzvah present!

There’s no better lesson than experience, and what I learned I wanted to share. Thus my book, my blog, Writers4Writers, speaking…my new life for the past four years.

I recently attended our local Jewish National Fund’s annual breakfast and had the honor to meet Ambassador Ido Aharoni. He has a huge list of accomplishments and here are a few…he is a 25-year veteran of Israel’s Foreign Service, holding many distinguished positions and who has also served as Israel’s longest serving Consul-General in New York. He is an expert branding manager who was appointed as Israel’s first head of Brand Management in Jerusalem and he heads Israel Brand Group, an independent group of brand and marketing specialists who aims to highlight Israel’s advantages and increase Israel’s relevance. Finally, he is currently serving as Global Distinguished Professor at New York University’s school of International Relations.

Can you identify my immediate interest in learning from him, given our similar missions of promoting Israel in a positive light?

I was so happy to be amongst my peeps at the Jewish National Fund breakfast. People who support Israel and realize what a miracle its existence truly is. It is seventy years young and growing.

Ambassador Aharoni reminded us of the conditions under which Israel was birthed…He credits David Ben-Gurion as one of the main people we are indebted to for Israel’s existence, and how Mr. Ben-Gurion’s chance meeting as a boy with Theodore Herzl seeded the vision of what we now know as our Jewish state.

Mr. Aharoni quoted David Ben-Gurion as saying, “he set his eyes on the final goal long before we even understood what it meant. He knew that there is a need to engage in a nation building process that started decades before 1948.”

He advised us that Israel exists not because of the Holocaust, although certainly that had a profound impact on its creation, but Zionism is the key factor of why our beloved country of Israel exists.

He recapped that when David Ben-Gurion proclaimed independence in 1948, he was in a minority view even within his own political camp. People thought he was crazy.  How crazy do you think he was?

In 1948 when Ben-Gurion decided to proclaim independence, there were only 650 thousand Jews in Palestine and no formally established military…he points out there was no army, navy, or even ammunition.  They had to import commanders from overseas! Not the typical way we think today of battling a war and forming a nation.

He humorously showed us how Life Magazine, in their May 30, 1948 issue reporting on the war didn’t even give it front page news which bore a Hollywood starlet, but buried deep within the magazine was where the war was mentioned. They viewed it as an experiment that was likely to fail. At the time, Israel didn’t have the support of the United States, Great Britain nor the Soviet Union.  In 1948, the year the state of Israel was established, only seventeen percent of American Jews viewed themselves as Zionists. “Zionism wasn’t cool or hot amongst American Jews then.”

Yet seventy years later, we stand proudly with a Jewish National Fund commitment to raise one billion dollars to support Israel in the next decade and they’ve already raised half of the funds. Mazal Tov! Is this a campaign you’d also like to support?

Ambassador Aharoni reminded us with pride, look what’s happened… Israel is the largest Jewish community in the world. Both Jews and non-Jews are affiliated with Zionism.

Israel grew from few to almost nine million people, and according to the national bureau of statistics by 2048 when Israel celebrates 100 years they will have 17 million people. With all of the hats Mr. Aharoni has worn, I wondered if real estate agent was one of them as he advised, given the fact that Israel will be almost doubling their population in the next thirty years, if you have some extra money, buy real estate in Israel.

He explained that Israel had a resourceful attitude, looking at first glance at what was an intentional devastating blow and how they climbed that barrier to greatness. He believes this “curse” actually turned out to be Israel’s biggest gift. He was speaking about the Arab Economic Boycott established in 1945, three years before Israel was declared a nation. For all intents and purposes it not only impacted the twenty-two Arab League countries and fifty-five Muslim countries, but the Western world fell prey to their oil-rich influence. The edict was that if you do business with the Zionist entity in 1945 you will not be able to do business with the Arab world.

On the surface, a few poor Jews in the desert didn’t stand a chance against this wealthy, formidable force. Ambassador Aharoni grew up in Israel without the taste of Pepsi nor the products supplied by General Electric.

But then the world can never dismiss us out of hand…

Ambassador Aharoni said that “Israel’s 9th president Shimon Peres used to complain that Israel was known as the land of milk and honey, but not oil and money.” Why then does Mr. Aharoni feel the chasm built by the Arab obstructionists was such a gift?

I suppose because the tough got going. Far from giving up, it forced Israel to develop markets beyond the Middle East and also to create a knowledge-based economy, both which served to make Israel a phenomenal success. Israel’s largest partner is Europe, not I’m disappointed to say, North America. He says “today Israel is the number one producer of conceptual products in the world. Israel is the hub of innovation second only to the Silicon Valley. It has 7500 start-up companies.”

It started with education. I’m sure most people are aware that the importance of education is integral to our Jewish belief system.  What people may not be cognizant of is the use of questioning and idea challenging that is also part of who we are as a people…we’ve been raised this way, which truly could help explain the inordinate success rate of Israel, given its diminutive size and lack of population. We imagine, ponder, question and don’t give up.

Israel’s number one asset in the world, Mr. Aharoni believes, is its human creativity…the new oil. Given our celebration of questioning, this translates into the refusal to accept limitations. You begin to “understand the secret sauce of Israel. The belief that every problem has a solution.”

The results speak for themselves. The ratings from the Shang Hai Index, that rates universities is one example of Israel’s many success stories. The index rates the top 500 universities in the world. It tracks the number of quotations and citations achieved by universities. The Professor informed us that Israel has nine research universities with 350K students combined, compared with in the U.S. we have 5,500 universities and 23 million students. Israel’s university ratings: six of the nine are in the top 400.  Four of the six are in the top 200, two of the four are in the top 100 and one of the two is ranked in the top 50. Astounding results for such a small country!

He continued to state that this tiny country produces more scientific papers per capita, registers more patents, buys more books and even buys more theatre tickets and has more musicians than any other nation.

They’ve not only been able to supply themselves with resources, but are using their limited resources, multiplying them with ingenuity and becoming suppliers to other nations. Once bitter enemies, they are now signing a fifteen billion dollar deal to become exporters of natural gas to Egypt, which not only is a great business move, but has strategic benefits as well.

As you can imagine water has always been a huge issue for many parts of this arid nation. Ambassador Aharoni pointed out that if you asked our founding fathers what is the #1 biggest existential issue in establishing Israel, they would say not the Arabs, but the lack of water.

Yet currently Israel, with the help of the Jewish National Fund has built 250 water reservoirs. Now in 2018, the state of Israel is happily 100% independent when it comes to water production. They are able to pump water from the Mediterranean, process the water through five major desalination plants and then use it. Israel reuses 85% of their water and is #1 in the world with the next closest nation being Spain with 25% reused water. They also are engaged in the rehabilitation of the legendary Jordan River, iconic to every Jew and Christian in the world.

Looking back at the many things that I learned from Ambassador Aharoni, I couldn’t help but think that I needed to add him to the list of what exemplifies why Israel is so successful. With such a brain trust and depth of honor for creativity, Israel demonstrates they clearly are on a successful path.

Once again I was proud and grateful for my relationship with the Jewish National Fund and for having introduced me and my fellow attendees to someone who taught me more about Israel and it’s resilience. May Israel continue to thrive and be blessed by the depth of its people.

I invite you to Join Me on My Journey…

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