Israeli Consul General of the Pacific Northwest, Andy David, visited Fresno State Monday evening.
An 18-year veteran of the Israeli diplomatic corps, David was at Fresno State speaking at a forum and answering questions from students, faculty and community members.
Audience questions varied from issues of Israel’s water reclamation technology to Israel’s portrayal in the Western media.
After the event David spoke about his office’s duty as a facilitator of information about Israel, its policies, people and culture.
David said he has encountered students who tell him they are glad to see an Israeli representative on campus. Such students, he said, usually disagree with the portrayal of Israel as often presented by professors. He, in turn, offers a different point of view.
“I think it helps them feel more secure in their position,” David said. “And I cannot change the minds of people who are totally anti-Israel or even those who are totally for Israel. The question is what happens to those in the middle? Who don’t know much, who don’t care much.”
David said planting seeds of understanding is key to helping these undecided people determine their stance on Israel. For David, this kind of understanding comes in the form of questioning the sources of information.
“Doubt what you hear. Doubt what you learn. Think for yourself. Try to find the logic. Does it make sense?” he said.
Speaking of the perception of Israel, David said many Americans seem to view his country in an overall favorable light.
“In my experience, the basic sentiment Americans have is very favorable toward Israel” he said. “Sometimes they don’t know exactly how to put words behind it, but I think Americans are pretty good at making an opinion based on instinct. They trust it.”
Jill Fields, a professor of history at Fresno State and coordinator of the Jewish Studies certificate program, responded to questions regarding the contentious relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
“The long history of anti-Semitism plays a part in this,” Fields said. “There are long-held stereotypes. Sadly those stereotypes are taught on a regular basis in the Middle East. In Western Europe and the United State those attitudes are not valued whatsoever, but they still exist among pockets of people. Unfortunately, in the Middle East its very widespread.”
David’s visit to Fresno State comes at a time when Israel is often vilified by its neighbors and the diplomats and politicians of other nations. Much of this is aimed at Israel because of its military actions against Palestinian quasi-military organizations.
Fields spoke of this perception of Israel and the conflict between Israel and Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“It’s used as a political football,” she said. “Having a problem in your country? Let’s focus on Palestine and Israel, and not deal with the problems in our own country. I think that goes on in Iran and other places.”