It began shortly after I first landed in Atlanta to take my position as consul general. Members of the local Jewish community took an interest in my background and started to visit Israel’s Druze towns. Many traveled to my northern Israeli home town of Isfiya, on Mount Carmel. People wanted to know: What was this new Druze consul general made of, and who exactly were these Druze people?
It became a movement. Every other week I received letters and postcards from Jewish families around the southeastern United States. They had visited one of the Druze communities and were coming back with messages from my friends and loved ones.
Many of these travelers and those who have heard their stories have been profoundly affected by their Druze experience. They are inspired to get involved in social and educational projects in the Druze community.
One Jewish family got so excited after a visit to Horfesh, a Druze town in the Galilee, that the family helped the community build a library in one of the local schools. And ORT America, I was told by Horfesh’s mayor, was donating 10 computerized “Smart Classes” to the town, a gift worth $500,000.
Why, one might ask, would American Jews care about the Druze in Israel? The answer is simple: Israeli Druze are a mirror image of American Jews. They are both strong minorities that work diligently to contribute positively to their country and to integrate into general society.
The movement for increased partnership between Israeli Druze and American Jews has created strong bonds, in part because the Druze support the Jews and Israel politically. But the support is more than merely political: The Druze have sacrificed hundreds of their own in the military, defending Israel and its people. Young Israeli Druze are fighting bravely on the frontlines in the war against terrorism and Islamic extremism.
Every year the Druze welcome thousands of American Jews visiting their villages as part of Birthright trips. These students enjoy the warm hospitality of the Druze in Carmel and the Galilee, and many of them remember the Druze part of the trip as the most interesting part of their tour. In return, those young Jews are sharing their experiences and making the tiny Druze community very popular around the world.
American Jewish involvement with the Israeli Druze is nothing new. I, myself, am a product of American Jewish philanthropy.
As a youth I went to my town’s local branch of BBYO, which was supported by a generous American Jewish family. BBYO was one of the reasons that, years later, my town of Isfiya became known as the “town of ambassadors” — at one point three natives of Isfiya, including myself, were serving as ambassadors of the State of Israel, on three different continents.
My middle school education at the Leo Baeck School in Haifa was made possible by a Reform rabbi, Robert Samuels, who had decided that it was important to invest in the education of young Druze. Even my graduate studies at Harvard University were the product of American Jewish generosity. I was among the many Israeli government officials sent by the Ohio-based Wexner Foundation to Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, one of the best public management schools in the world.
The Druze, with Jewish support, have chosen their path — they stand resolutely on the side of Israel. However, for other minority groups in Israel the future remains uncertain. Today, Israel’s Arab minority is experiencing a struggle between their Martin Luther Kings and their Malcolm Xs, between their moderates who push for integration and their extremists who push for Palestinian nationalism within Israel.
American Jews can make a difference in Israel by getting involved in the social wellbeing of moderate minorities in Israel. By strengthening the ties between these groups and their own, American Jews will bolster the moderates and forever change the course of events in the Middle East.
Through support and common understanding, more groups can follow the path of the Israeli Druze. As it did with the Druze, this movement of cooperation will allow American Jews to make a constructive contribution to the strength and future of the State of Israel.
Ambassador Reda Mansour, an Israeli Druze, is consul general of Israel to the Southeastern United States.