Elad Strohmayer, 31, is a relatively new face in Israeli diplomacy. He took the reins as second-in-command at the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia last summer. With a background in humanitarian law, Strohmayer is now completing a master’s degree in international relations while juggling day-to-day duties in political affairs, outreach, press, academia, culture, government relations and economic development. He’s also gay, in a field with few high-ranking officials who are out. The Forward’s Michael Kaminer chatted with Strohmayer about Israel’s “pinkwashing” controversy, its political challenges and its surprising economic ties to the city of Philadelphia.
Michael Kaminer: Before Philadelphia, you were posted in Luanda, Angola. How do they compare?
Elad Strohmayer: It’s hard to compare the posts. But one thing is for sure: I feel very fortunate to have had the experience in Luanda. In the U.S., I have the comforts of the developed world. Angola is going through a wave of development and daily living is getting better. In Philadelphia, we work in a consulate and in Angola it is an embassy, so there are different responsibilities. There is no established Jewish community in Angola, and, of course,
Philadelphia has a large community. This is a key factor in my work. I’ve enjoyed warm and caring people in both places. I’ve made lasting friends in Angola, and in Philly I am doing the same. Plus, direct flights to Tel Aviv [make] traveling back and forth from home easier.
For someone in your position, what’s the biggest challenge politically?
Israel is facing serious challenges: the situation in Syria, the uncertainty of a new government in Egypt and the constant threat of a nuclear Iran. It is important to remember that Iran is not only a threat to Israel, but a threat to the stability of the Middle East and the entire international community.
You told Philadelphia Gay News that being gay hasn’t been an issue at work. Was being out ever a concern in any of the places you’ve been posted?
As a diplomat, I have learned to respect the culture of my post. And I typically keep my private life to myself, so it’s generally not an issue. I won’t change my lifestyle and won’t change who I am. Is it true that being gay is not well received in many countries? Yes, but a diplomat has so much more to offer than conversation about sexual orientation.
The “pinkwashing” controversy continues to make headlines. How do you respond to claims that Israel’s stance on human rights for LGBT people just papers over other issues?
People want a perfect world, and there’s no such thing. Israel is not perfect and neither is any other country. Every country is multidimensional. That doesnt stop it from underscoring its values, culture, traditions and other positive aspects. There is a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to Israel-related issues; many tend to relate Israel only to the conflict, and it is more than that. Because of this, I don’t see anything wrong with showcasing Israel as an open, liberal society that happens to be very advanced in gay rights. Conversely, gay Palestinians seek safe haven in Israel because they are persecuted. I ask you: Why are the people who say pinkwashing so focused on the only country in the Middle East where its okay to be gay? And, when it comes to other countries that actually persecute and execute gays, they remain silent?