Last Friday Consul General of Israel, Yaron Sideman, led a question and answer session in the Ford Atrium of McComsey. The event was co-sponsored by the International Studies program and the School of Humanities and Social Science. The diplomat is based in Philadelphia and is the Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region.
Sideman is a graduate of the Israel National Defense College and served in the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Director of Congressional Affairs in the North America Division. He has had quite a varied professional journey, studying music, psychology, philosophy, and translation. He earned a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Haifa University and a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy from Tel Aviv University.
Wanting to serve his country was what led Sideman to a career in diplomacy. He joked that he was too old and overweight to join the Navy Seals. Sideman started his career by spending three years in Nigeria; there, he saw a brutal dictatorship turn into the possibility of a democratic regime. The government is still fluctuating due to colonialist rulers artificially carving out states with no regard to tribal ties.
Sideman’s career allows him to improve relations between Israel and the U.S. through Congress. The consulate he works at is one of nine across the country. Consulates deal with economic, cultural, and academic exchanges between two countries. “A consulate creates relationships that are mutually beneficial,” said Sideman. In contrast, the Embassy deals with government-to-government relations through the White House, Congress, and State Department.
Sideman spoke of the level of stress associated with the job, but explained that the benefits outweigh the pressures. “It is a huge privilege for me to represent my country,” he said. The job is overwhelming because of its broad scope: a Consul General works with local, state, and federal government to improve relationship-building. He also explained the importance of diplomacy between the U.S. and Israel.
“Israel’s number one asset is their relationship with the U.S.,” said Sideman. He said that the Jewish people are living in a historical moment in which they have a nation-state; they were once scattered around the world and now, most Jewish people are in Israel or North America. The last time such a large population of Jewish people lived in one place was in the time of Jerusalem and Babylon.
When referring to the Arab-Israeli conflict, he urged for an open discussion. The conflict is a touchy subject for all; the Jewish people were promised a state after years of discrimination and Arab people were displaced from lands they called home. Secretary of State John Kerry has started peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Sideman sees this as progress but warns that a historical conflict of this nature cannot be solved in an instant. “All we can do now is sit it out and be prepared for a rough ride ahead,” he said.
Sideman sees only one solution: a two-state policy. The smaller issues of borders and security will be a later concern of the solution. Secretary General of the U.N. Ban Ki Moon shares the same sentiment. However, Palestinians are not in favor of the two-state policy.
Sideman encourages Palestinian leadership to recognize the legitimacy of Israel. He explains that until then, they cannot make a real change with the peace talks. “This will verify that we are not talking in vain,” he said.
Not everything done by the consulate is political. Sideman has brought an Israeli jazz band to Philadelphia to promote cultural exchanges. As for expanding their interests, Israel has an export-driven economy and is always looking for new markets. They intend to expand to China and India.