Ron Brummer looks at his three years in Atlanta as deputy consul general for Israel as his reward for the three years he represented his country in the hostile environment of Chile.
Brummer called his experience in Atlanta a “huge contrast” to Chile, which he described as “one of the most anti-Israeli environments possible,” with an influential Palestinian community of some half-million people, the largest outside the Middle East.
Brummer will return home in mid-July, having completed his tour of duty in the consulate that has been responsible for six Southeastern states: Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.
“So supportive, very Zionist, one of the friendliest places to Israel in the world, I guess, if not the friendliest,” Brummer said of the Southeast. “People are very friendly. People want to cooperate with you just because you are Israeli, just because you represent Israel.”
During an interview at the consulate in a Midtown office building owned by Selig Enterprises, Brummer said Israel enjoys the support of all of the governors, including Georgia’s Nathan Deal, the U.S. senators, and almost all of the members of the U.S. House in the region.
His successor as deputy consul general will be Anat Tsin, a Foreign Ministry cadet in her first posting. Tsin, who at 39 has moved from Israel’s Interior Ministry, will have little overlap with Brummer, though she has visited Atlanta for a week of orientation and met members of the Israeli community during a Lag B’Omer celebration at the Chabad Israeli Center Atlanta.
Brummer, 37, said his family has loved living in Atlanta. “We’ve had the time of our lives here,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed every minute of living here, from a personal point of view.”
He said another city in the region, Nashville, is his favorite place to visit.
His wife, Ayelet Avrahami, has worked out of the consulate as the director of the Israeli House program of Israel’s Ministry of Absorption, which aims to keep Israelis living in Atlanta connected to their homeland. Their boys, Maayan, 3, and Peleg, 6, have attended Atlanta Jewish Academy.
All are looking forward to being closer to family, Brummer’s in Ramat Gan and his wife’s in Ra’anana.
Brummer joined Israel’s foreign service after leaving a career managing a public relations firm. Being a diplomat is “a fascinating job, the most fascinating I could have chosen.”
Fascinating but not without its challenges. “Israeli diplomats are not being rewarded as they should, and, unfortunately, many Israeli diplomats are leaving the ministry because of that,” Brummer said, diplomatically not discussing wages except to say he took a pay cut to work for his country. “I wish that our government, the state of Israel, will acknowledge the importance of Israeli diplomats and pay them accordingly.”
As for his own future, “I want to keep doing things for Israel. This is what I’m driven by, and this is why I joined the ministry,” he said. But he does not know his next assignment. Returning diplomats often work at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem for a couple of years before being posted to another country.
As deputy consul, Brummer helped manage operations of the Atlanta consulate and gave particular attention to bilateral economic issues and outreach to the Jewish, Christian, African-American and Hispanic communities in the region.
A special challenge Brummer encountered was persuading Israelis, particularly those in the business community, to consider locating in the South rather than such traditionally favored locales as New York, Miami, Chicago and California.
When Brummer arrived three years ago, the local Israeli community was estimated at 5,000 to 7,000. Today, he said, Atlanta has one of the nation’s fastest-growing Israeli communities, estimated at 10,000 to 12,000 people and perhaps as high as 15,000. There are parts of Alpharetta, he joked, where Hebrew is heard more than English.
Brummer acknowledged that more work is needed to improve relations between the local Jewish and Israeli communities. “We are culturally different, and that is why sometimes you need a lot of artificial mechanisms to try to get them together. It doesn’t happen naturally,” he said. “It’s not that easy to get water and oil together. You have to oil the water a little bit and water the oil a little bit to get them more together. We are succeeding, very gradually, but it’s happening.”
As an example, he said a growing number of Israelis have become active with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which works to ensure support for Israel at all levels of government in the United States.
Other challenges are more difficult.
From colleagues in other U.S. consulates, particularly in San Francisco and Chicago, Brummer has heard what he termed “horror stories” about the reception received by Israeli diplomats at campuses where the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has taken root.
Elements of the BDS movement have “infiltrated” some Southern campuses — Brummer mentioned the University of Georgia, Georgia State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and “even at Emory, the most Jewish university in the South” — “but there is nothing to compare” with the hostility that exists elsewhere, he said.
Among the periods that presented the greatest challenges to Israel’s diplomatic corps was Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, during which rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip and the Israel Defense Forces engaged Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups from the air and on the ground.
Brummer said government officials and most of the people of the Atlanta consulate’s region were “very supportive” of Israel’s actions. “Once again, there is a huge difference between the atmosphere here and the atmosphere in other parts of the United States,” he said. Aside from a small number of what he termed “weirdos” from Jewish Voice for Peace who protested outside the building that houses the consulate, “the Jewish community here is very Zionist, very pro-Israeli. The amount of criticism we received during Protective Edge was minor, in the Jewish community and outside of it.”
Brummer acknowledged that Israel faces a challenge in maintaining its historically positive relations with the leadership of the African-American community, while a segment of the community supports the Palestinian cause. He admitted frustration with the notion of intersectionality, by which pro-Palestinian activists “manipulate their story” to equate their efforts with the struggle of the Black Lives Matter movement. “There are parts of the African-American community that don’t see Israel the way that, for example, Martin Luther King saw Israel,” he said.
The consulate has made a priority of its relationship with the administration and students of Morehouse College, a school known for educating future leaders in the African-American community.
On other campuses, the consulate has encouraged Jewish and non-Jewish pro-Israel groups to build coalitions with Hispanic, Muslim and black students, seeing those student groups as more effective proxies for the Israeli government than its consulate.
The opposite situation exists when the consulate engages with evangelical Christians. Brummer said his colleagues elsewhere in the United States are envious when he tells them of the applause, not to mention the hugs and kisses, he receives when representing Israel at gatherings of Christian Zionists. “It’s something that comes from the bottoms of their hearts. It’s a real, genuine support that is based on the Bible, obviously. The level of support that we get from the evangelicals here is overwhelming, and it’s amazing.”
The status of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel is a stickier issue, one that concerns many American Jews. Brummer understands the concerns of non-Orthodox Jews over such issues as access to the Kotel and discrimination in some aspects of Israeli law. Pointing to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent statements of support for the non-Orthodox cause, Brummer said, “I really believe that this prime minister and many other ministers in this specific government understand the importance of egalitarianism and not to let Jews feel they are second class.”
Beyond Brummer’s departure, a major change is coming to the consulate only months after it survived an effort — not by the Foreign Ministry, but by the Finance Ministry — to close it. The closing of the consulate in Philadelphia has required the redrawing of the map of which Israeli consulates handle which states. Pending approval by the U.S. State Department, responsibility for Mississippi and Alabama will shift to the Miami consulate Aug. 1, while Atlanta adds West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri.
While those new states, particularly Missouri, have less in common with Georgia and the Carolinas than do Alabama and Mississippi, the role of the consulate’s diplomats is the same: to advocate the interests of Israel. “A good lawyer represents his client. My client is the state of Israel. My personal beliefs and thoughts are, first of all, absolutely irrelevant, because I have a sacred cause bestowed upon me. I represent a sacred cause, the state of Israel,” Brummer said. “I represent the Israeli government. It may be this prime minister or that government, I don’t care. I represent a cause, I represent the state, I represent the government. I think that’s the key for being a good diplomat — understanding that it has nothing to do with your personal beliefs. It has to do with you serving a cause.
“I have served this cause for eight years, since I joined the Foreign Ministry, and I hope to be serving this cause for many more years under Prime Minister A, Prime Minister B or Prime Minister C.”
Brummer would like to return to the United States someday as an Israeli diplomat. “I can tell you that I only now, after three years, understand, fully understand, the significance of the United States to not only the well-being, but the mere existence of the state of Israel,” he said. “The most important work that Israeli diplomacy has to do is here, in the United States, maintaining and improving the relations with our best ally.”