Israeli Consul leads Hillel discussion

by Alexandra Kilduff
News Editor

Last Friday, the Hillel Jewish University Center hosted Uriel Palti, the Israeli Consul General to Philadelphia, for a discussion and breakfast. The event was also hosted by the Pittsburgh Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Carnegie Mellon Israel Public Affairs Committee.
?He [Palti] approached us with the idea [of visiting],? said Aaron Weill, the executive director of Hillel. ?He wanted to visit Pittsburgh as it is an important Jewish community, and the idea to visit our campus was that he heard about the volume of Israel-oriented activities on Pittsburgh campuses, and [he] wanted to ?start at the top.? ?
Roughly 30 people were invited to the discussion, which took place at the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center in Oakland. The audience consisted primarily of students from Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh. After some preliminary comments from Weill and Oded Frid, Hillel?s Israel Fellow, Palti began his talk by declaring how ?refreshing? it was to see a young audience. ?I meet people all the time who think they are very important, but never young,? he said.
Palti, who was recently named the Israeli Consul General to Philadelphia, previously worked at the Israeli consulates in New York and Los Angeles. He also represented Israel on the UN General Assembly?s Legal Committee and was instrumental in the peace talks and treaty between Israel and Jordan. Currently, the Israeli consulate in Philadelphia serves the Mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, and southern New Jersey.
Palti?s talk focused mainly on the present and future political situations in Israel, particularly in light of the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the new Palestinian president. ?We are at a very important juncture,? he declared. He expressed optimism over Abbas? election, saying, ?We believe he can stop terrorism.? However, he maintained that Israeli-Palestinian relations still faced challenges. ?I expect a difficult period,? he said.
He also mentioned the recovery of Israel?s tourist industry, claiming that roughly 1.5 million tourists visited the country in 2004. He then said that Pittsburgh had seen roughly five or six million tourists last year, prompting an audience member to say, ?I think they?re including commuters.?
A question-and-answer period followed Palti?s speech, during which he addressed concerns about Syria, Iran, and the new Bush administration in the United States. He stated that he felt ?excellent? about Israeli-American relations for the next four years, but added that Israel was ?bipartisan? and didn?t favor individual terms.
Palti expressed the importance of student involvement. ?What is important for us is to be on top all the time of what is going on with Israel and America.? He urged students to ?get to know the facts.? ?I would like to stress,? he added, ?how you can represent Jewish life on campus.?
In reference to his relocation to Philadelphia, he said, ?You find yourself at home, no matter where you are.?