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Thursday, 11 June 2015

A Good Shepherd Who Loves Israel

In what is being regarded as a  triumph for both sides, ESRA Karmiel  with the Karmiel English Speakers Club are to host a lecture by Israel’s first Bedouin diplomat.

Ishmael.KhaldiMoreover, Ishmael Khaldi’s main role as Counsellor for Civil Society Affairs at the Israel Embassy in London  is fighting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and similar anti-Israel activity in the U.K. He soon learnt his was not to be an easy job  when he was prevented from addressing a meeting of the University of Edinburgh's Jewish Society by pro-Palestinian protesters who disrupted the venue where he was due to speak.

Mr Khaldi was born and raised in Khawalid, a Bedouin village in Western Galilee. Born the third of eleven children, he lived in a traditional tent until he was aged eight, walking a four mile (six kilometre) round trip to attend school as well as tending flocks of sheep. Later, he initiated a project, "Hike and Learn with Bedouins in the Galilee" that has brought thousands of young Jews to Khawalid to learn about Bedouin culture and history. It was these sessions that prompted his ambition to become a diplomat

Khaldi says his family's ties with their Jewish neighbours go back to the days of the early East European Zionist pioneers who settled in the Galilee during the 1920s.

He believes “there is still a long way to go before the Bedouin minority achieves full equality in Israel but the situation is improving, and more Bedouins are graduating from high school, entering universities and getting better jobs than ever before ...

"There are differences in tradition and religion between us, but at the end of the day we are all Israeli citizens”. Khaldi considers himself a proud Bedouin but regards a Jewish state as beneficial to his community. He says it is through the alliance with Israel that his community has begun to transcend the isolation created by its nomadic tradition.  A Shepherd's Journey

He served in the Israel Defence Force and with the Israel Police as well as earning degrees from the Universities of Haifa and Tel Aviv.

In October 2004 he was chosen to join the Israel Foreign Ministry, becoming the state’s  first Bedouin diplomat. To begin, he served in the Arabic Media Department, acting as  spokesperson to the Arabic media during the Disengagement from Gaza. Later, he moved to the North American Division and became Deputy Consul General in San Francisco, where he remained for three years. There was a further stint as a policy adviser in Jerusalem before he was posted in London.

Mr Khaldi often returns to the Galilee to visit his family and  when he addresses ESRA Karmiel and the KESC he will also discuss his book, A Shepherd's Journey: the Story of Israel's First Bedouin Diplomat.

 * The event is at the Kehillat Hakerem Conservative Congregation on Monday 29 June (7.00 p.m.).

© Natalie Wood (11 June 2015)

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