Bedouin diplomat Ishmael Khaldi speaks to AIJAC

May 31, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Israel’s first Bedouin diplomat Ishmael Khaldi was recently in Melbourne where he addressed an Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs (AIJAC) lunch.

Ismail Khadi (centre), with AIJAC’s Joel Burnie (l) and Tzvi Fleischer (r). Photo credit: Sharyn Mittelman

Mr Khaldi grew up as a shepherd in a small Bedouin village in northern Israel, one of eleven children.  He began working for the Israeli Foreign Ministry in 2004, and in 2006 he was appointed to serve in San Francisco as Israel’s Deputy Consul General to the US Pacific Northwest.  In 2009 he worked as a policy advisor to then Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman.

Regarding his choice of career, Mr Khaldi said that he feels a “moral responsibility to stand up” as a Bedouin and a Muslim because whenever Israel is discussed the treatment of its minorities inevitably comes up.  Having spoken to audiences around the world – from indigenous communities in Australia and Alaska, and campuses with strong pro-BDS activity in London and San Francisco, he said that people are often surprised to learn about the Israeli Bedouin and their warm relationship with Israel.

For Mr Khaldi that relationship is personal, as his own grandmother helped Jewish pioneers at Kibbutz K’far HaMaccabi, predating Israel’s existence.  This story is detailed in Mr Khaldi’s autobiography “A Shepherd’s Journey”, where he writes: “Our village has an excellent relationship with the kibbutzniks and my late grandmother, Nof, was considered practically family to the kibbutz pioneers… She worked with them when they first began cultivating the fields in the area and when they planted the citrus orchards that now surround the kibbutz.  Many Bedouins from the area worked for the kibbutzim as agricultural workers.”   Given the unique experience of the Bedouin, their relationship to Israel is different to many other Israeli Arab communities, with many Bedouin serving in the Israeli army and police force. Mr Khaldi also served in the IDF and Israel Police prior to becoming a diplomat.

Although, Mr Khaldi noted that the Israeli-Arab vote was very low in the last election, which appears to reflect growing frustration.  He said that Israel is not a perfect society and that more is needed to improve the position of Israeli Arabs including the Bedouin, however, he noted that over the past decade there has been significant investment in Israel-Arab communities.  While Mr Khaldi commented that he is often criticised by anti-Israel groups for being an Israeli diplomat, he sees himself as a loyal Israeli who is also trying “to make Israel better.”  He writes in his autobiography, “In the words of Martin Luther King, I, too, have a dream, that in the future children on both sides will start playing together and going to school together.  Both will be responsible to make Israel a better place.  Both will turn the differences between them into bridges of understanding and channels of coexistence.  No one is saying that this will be easy.  People on both sides will have to work hard, be patient and resolute, but I truly believe it is ‘Mission Possible’.”

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