BY AL SHAMS / AJT //

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to meet Israel’s Consul General to the Southeast U.S., though I’ve never been certain what he’s charged with doing. So I decided recently to make a visit the Israeli consulate here with the specific purpose of doing a little research.

Opher Aviran

Opher Aviran

The Atlanta office serves a six-state region: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and the Carolinas. Duties include assisting Israeli travelers with visas and passports. Additionally, the consul and his staff also handle a wide range of activities that benefit Israel, the region and promote good will.

Opher Aviran, the current Consul General, is midway through his five-year posting. He’s a warm and gracious man who loves Israel, his job and the Southeast. His office is filled with mementoes of places he’s visited and people he’s met, including a football signed by Nick Saban.

Aviran was born in Israel, earned a bachelor’s degree from Hebrew University and a master’s degree in political science from the University of Haifa. He entered foreign service in 1983 and has served in numerous positions around the world, including Australia, Burma and the Netherlands.

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Sharon Kabalo is the current Deputy Consul General. She’s a native of Jerusalem and earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Hebrew University. She joined the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1998 and has served both in Israel and Costa Rica.

Aviran has obviously worked with many executives and politicians from across the region and made a point of talking about his special relationships with Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. He also mentioned others who have embraced his work and are good friends of Israel.

“Atlanta and the Southeast is blessed with many people, both gentile and Jewish, who support Israel,” Opher said.

Primary Goal

The office of the Consul General is focused on building both a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship between Israel and the people of the Southeastern U.S. through education. Additionally, Aviran and his staff spend time promoting cooperation in the areas of politics, strategic and homeland security, economic growth, academics, health and culture.

In recent months, this work has paid off in various ways. For starters, Georgia was the first state in the Southeast to pass legislation to prohibit state pension assets from directly or indirectly investing in companies doing business with Iran. It’s also important to note that various agencies in Georgia have invested in State of Israel bonds.

Additionally, the Israeli Consulate is working closely with the African-American community here. Last November, when Israel was under attack by terrorist rockets, Mayor Reed spoke in support of Israel at a rally held at Ahavath Achim.

Reed himself has traveled to Israel, visited iconic Holocaust museum Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and understands the threat posed by terrorists to the Jewish state. Meanwhile, the Knesset has passed a resolution recognizing the civil rights contribution of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the holiday that bears his name.

Early last year, Aviran was honored by the Georgia General Assembly for his efforts to strengthen the ties between Israel and the Southeast. Representative Joe Wilkinson introduced a resolution highlighting the Consul General’s work in the fields of economics and politics, and the resolution was presented to Aviran by Wilkinson and David Ralston, the Georgia House Speaker.

Aviran has also been honored by South Carolina’s legislature and was presented with a special resolution declaring South Carolina’s support for Israel and commending the special relationship between Israel, the U.S. and the state.

A Matter of Business

Last May, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black led a delegation to Israel to attend the 18th Annual International Agricultural Exhibition. Agriculture being Georgia’s number one industry, the trip allowed the commissioner an opportunity to showcase the state’s leading farm exports, including pecans, poultry, beef, fruits and vegetables.

Israeli farmers have a long history of effectively utilizing their modest resources and of employing advanced agro-technologies. Exhibitions and workshops such as last year’s offer a way for Israeli and U.S. farmers to share ideas and develop better ways to work the land.

Then, last December, Israeli-based company Neuro Quest announced that it would open a U.S. development center in Charleston, S.C. The company is currently working on products to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s also interesting to note that a division of Raytheon Corp., which is based in Huntsville, Ala., worked with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to develop some of the key components of the David’s Sling Missile Defense System. And finally, Boeing is working with Israeli air force industries to develop the Arrow2 and Arrow3 Missile Defense System to intercept ballistic missiles.

Global Health Concerns

This summer, students from the University of Georgia and the University of Haifa will take part in a three-week program called “Developing Leaders of Global Health Systems.” Participants will study and compare various health systems, identify best practices, envision an ideal system and develop leadership skills.

Last year, Israel hosted a special delegation of leading hospital CEOs from North America, including five from Tennessee. Since, the Israeli government has begun working with the Tennessee Health Care Commission to determine how they can promote further collaboration. With Israel and Tennessee both at the forefront of innovative approaches to healthcare, the partnership seems promising.

Sports and Culture

During the summer of 2012, Tal Brody, an Israeli basketball star, conducted a two-week workshop to sharpen the skills of local basketball players. Many teens participated in the event.

Jumping to the musical side of the spectrum, as part of a three-year collaboration, the Atlanta Ballet will feature a program incorporating music and contemporary dance by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. The Consulate is also sponsoring a jazz musician, Uri Gurvich, at this year’s Atlanta Jazz Festival; and sponsored a rock band, Electra, at the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival.

And then there’s the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, which has become hugely popular in recent years. Many of the films shown are produced in Israel, and the consulate has helped bring over many Israeli actors, producers and directors to take part in panel discussions at the annual event.

A Final Message

In my closing moments with the Consul General, I asked him if he had any special message he would like to share with our readers.

“Yes: I have long envisioned a foundation operating independently from the Consulate,” Aviran said, “funding itself and working to provide financial resources to enhance cultural exchange between Israel and the U.S.”

His dream even has a suggested name: The American-Israeli Cultural Council.

As we can see, Aviran and his staff are active in a number of areas, which is amazing given their small number and modest resources. Much of what they do is “routine,” and yet I’d argue that the Consul General and those behind him have a huge and meaningful impact on our lives.

For additional information, visit the consulate website at IsraelAtlanta.org or follow the consulate on Facebook at facebook.com/israelatlaanta. Al Shams is a Sandy Springs resident a former CPA and an Investment professional with more than 35 years industry experience.

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