My father first crossed an international border inside a potato sack, his mouth muffled with a cloth.
The year was 1921 and he was barely six months old. He and his family - my family – were fleeing pogroms in the Ukraine to the relative safety of Poland. His parents put him in that bag and covered his mouth to prevent him from crying – a mortal danger for the entire group. When they arrived to the Polish side, my grandmother opened the sack to see if her son was still alive. Luckily, he had not suffocated and so the story continues.
Sixty years later, my father – Moshe Dayan, a distant relative of the homonymous Israeli General - crossed another border coming from Israel into Guatemala. This time, as Israel's ambassador to that country, he enjoyed immunity, was received with honors while carrying a diplomatic passport bearing the menorah of the sovereign Jewish State. A similar diplomatic passport I carry today as I arrive to New York to head Israel's largest diplomatic mission in the world.
The tale of these three crossings symbolizes the dramatic change in the history of the Jewish people from the dark days of the first half of the 20th century until the prosperity and achievement of today. The creation of the independent State of Israel made these changes possible and its existence guarantees their permanence.
I bear all this in mind when I am told that representing an Israel led by a mostly conservative government in a predominantly liberal New York is not an easy task. As the global epicenter of economy, media, culture and civil society, not to mention the most vibrant hub of Jewish life outside of Israel, representing Israel to New York, is in fact representing Israel to the national and perhaps even to the global public opinion.
Some would be forgiven for thinking that the task will be even more challenging for someone with my political background. For decades I have resided in a town nestled within the hills of Samaria, overlooking Tel Aviv and Israel’s coastal plain, considered by many in the international community as a “settlement”. I am also not a career diplomat, but a political appointment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. These are both things that I am proud of and have never tried to hide. In fact, I see them as two of the greatest assets that I bring to New York. In my view, diplomacy is not a euphemism for a shallow exchange of platitudes that evades anything sensitive but rather a candid and incisive dialogue. We don’t have to agree, but we have to tell each other our truth.
I hope to avoid two traps Israelis are sometimes tempted into.
First, I don't intend to ignore the elephant in the room: "The Conflict", our long and seemingly interminable dispute with the Palestinians, and the heated discussion how it should be solved or managed.
Israel is indeed the Start-Up Nation, Tel Aviv really is an LGBT paradise and surely there is no city more special than Jerusalem. But those are not relevant answers to questions asked that merit serious responses. Therefore, I come to New York to maintain an open conversation, about the most delicate issues as well. I will listen attentively and I will do my best to persuade my interlocutors that a Palestinian State does not exist because our neighbors have always preferred to continue their struggle to eliminate Israel from the map, instead of taking any of the far-reaching offers made to them by successive Israeli governments.
Preaching to the choir with its accompanying easy applause – the second trap - may be good for one's ego, but I have always done my utmost to avoid it. Countries do not send senior envoys abroad to convince their supporters but rather the doubtful and the opponents. I will not engage the hate-filled demagogues, because it is totally futile and because they don't deserve it.
However, I definitely see as my duty to dedicate a large share of my time and effort to those on the fence, to the disenchanted lovers of Israel, to those that want to support Israel but don't always comprehend all its policies.
While in Israel, I always accepted invitations from across the political spectrum, never refused to speak to an audience strongly opposed to my beliefs. Frequently I was the only member in my political camp to engage those audiences, disregarding claims I "legitimize" them by so doing. The same attitude will lead me in New York.
The task Prime Minister Netanyahu bestowed upon me is probably one of the most challenging, but also the most exciting Israel's Foreign Service can offer. As my aircraft descends towards John F. Kennedy Airport I think both about my father who wandered for decades from Ukraine to Poland to Argentina and finally to Israel, and about my daughter who knows nothing but growing up in the self-confidence granted by an independent Jewish State. What a difference Israel makes! This thought will always be imprinted on my mind as I represent Israel in New York and to the world.