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Israel appoints Joburg native consul general in Los Angeles

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TOM TUGEND

A veteran of about 20 years in Israel’s foreign service, Newman, 54, has served as ambassador to the Republic of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. There, his duties included the preservation of Jewish cemeteries, and “facilitation” of matzah and kosher wine for Passover.

When Newman was four years old, his father, Rabbi Jacob Newman, moved with his family to Cape Town, where he served as spiritual leader of the Sea Point Hebrew Congregation. Subsequently, the family made aliyah, and settled in the coastal town of Netanyah.

Assignment to the consulate in Los Angeles is considered a key career boost for Israel foreign-service officers, and in an extended phone interview, Newman outlined the importance of the city to Israel.

He said that California – in and by itself – is now the fifth largest economy in the world, sets the pace for technology and innovation, has a large and active Jewish community, wields considerable political clout and, of course, there’s Hollywood with its enormous global outreach.

One indicator of the importance Israel attaches to the Golden State, and the region encompassing Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming is that its three most recent top representatives there have been native English speakers, curiously labelled “Anglo-Saxons” in the Jewish state.

Newman’s predecessors, David Siegel and Sam Grundwerg, hail from New Hampshire and Florida respectively.

Newman has been an Israeli diplomat for the past 20 years and, like most of his colleagues, is a man of diverse interests and accomplishment. He earned a PhD in Jewish History and Judaic studies from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, and among his more exotic accomplishments is a mastery of ancient Greek in order to research the history of Israel during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

In the mid-1980s he served as a medic in the Israel Defense Forces during the war in Lebanon.

The vast territory of the Republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where Newman was Israeli ambassador, was formerly part of the Soviet Union, but declared its independence following the breakup of the Communist regime.

During the past two years, Newman has served as a special policy advisor to Yuval Rotem, the director of Israel’s foreign ministry.

Both as an activist and a researcher, Newman has been in the forefront of countering attacks on the Jewish practice of circumcision and shechita (ritual slaughtering).

Looking at the broader picture, he observed that “Jewish life and identity are in jeopardy. There are the direct murderous attacks at synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego, and the internal threats of assimilation and lack of Jewish education.”

Newman is also concerned about the growing politicisation of American public opinion vis-à-vis Israel, and hopes for a return to a time “when Israel was a bi-partisan issue”.

Rounding out the picture of the new consul general is a profile released by the foreign ministry, which notes, in part, that Newman “has gathered extensive experience in professional advocacy, public speaking, networking, new media connectivity, and the cultivation of formal and informal contacts …[He is] passionate about the preservation of global Jewish identity, and the safety and security of the state of Israel.”

Newman is expected to take up his new post in early July, accompanied by his wife and their nine-year-old son, Ram.

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