By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Aviv Ezra’s goal as an Israeli diplomat stationed in the Midwest is to help Israelis and Midwesterners get to know one another better. He met Oct. 19 with Bishop Thomas Zinkula because of the value he places on cultivating relationships with religious as well as civic leaders.
Allan Ross, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities, arranged the visit between Bishop Zinkula and Ezra, who serves as Consul General of Israel to the Midwest. “To meet one of the leaders of the Catholic Church and of St. Ambrose University in eastern Iowa is very important. Catholic-Jewish dialogue is so important,” Ross said.
Bishop Zinkula observed that Pope Francis speaks often about the importance of encounter and dialogue. “When we get to know each other, we treat each other differently. We don’t demonize,” the bishop observed. Ezra concurred. “Getting to know people doesn’t allow you to demonize.” Barriers and suspicions are removed, he added.
Ezra noted that later in the evening he would attend an event called a Night to Honor Israel, which Evangelical Christians in the Quad Cities host annually as a fundraiser for special causes in Israel. This year’s event focused on aiding Ukrainian Jews fleeing their country and seeking refuge in Israel.
The Consul General also met with representatives of St. Ambrose University in Davenport to talk about the Popes in the Holy Land photo exhibition that will be displayed at the university from January through March 31, 2018. The exhibition features photographs of papal visits to Israel from 1964-2014.
Bishop Zinkula shared with Ezra memories of visiting Israel as a young priest. “We spent half of our time in Galilee … I felt comfortable there,” the bishop said. In Jerusalem, he felt a sense of mystery. He talked about visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. The bishop said he’d like to get back to Israel in the future, and Ezra encouraged him to do so. “For me, the Bible really came alive in Israel,” Bishop Zinkula continued. “You can touch and you can see where Jesus walked.”
Discussion turned toward relations between Israel and the Palestinians. The bishop asked Ezra what he thought about the accord between Fatah and Hamas. The Guardian.com reported Oct. 12 that Hamas and Fatah, bitter rivals representing Palestinians, signed a preliminary reconciliation agreement that would give the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority full control over the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip by Dec. 1.
“Any reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas must include honoring international agreements and the Middle East Quartet conditions, first and foremost among them, recognizing Israel and disarming Hamas,” Ezra said. “Continuing to dig tunnels, manufacture missiles and initiate terrorist attacks against Israel are incompatible with the Quartet conditions and the efforts of the United States to renew the diplomatic process.”
“As long as Hamas does not disarm and continues to call for the destruction of Israel, Israel holds it responsible for all terrorist actions originating in the Gaza Strip. Israel opposes any reconciliation that does not include the components mentioned above. Furthermore, Israel insists that the PA not allow any base whatsoever for Hamas terrorist actions from PA areas in Judea and Samaria or from Gaza, if the PA indeed takes responsibility for its territory. Israel will monitor developments on the ground and act accordingly.”
Ezra noted that one of the first questions he’s always asked is about relations between the Israelis and Palestinians. He believes the two sides can come together and sit at the table. But, he noted, “Israel is about so much more than the Palestinian question.”
In an earlier interview with The Catholic Messenger, Ezra was asked what he wants the newspaper’s readers to know about Israel. “I want them to know they should consider Israel as their home, as one of the safest places in the world to visit, and as the cradle of Christianity.”
Aviv Ezra bio
Aviv Ezra, Council General of Israel to the Midwest, was born in Israel in 1972. Following military service, he received a B.A. in Economics and Political Science from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He worked for two years in the private sector as COO of a publishing company.
Earlier in his diplomatic career, Ezra spent eight years fostering Israel’s relationship with the U.S. Congress. Ezra also served as Economic and Commercial Attaché to Cairo, Egypt, and as the Deputy Consul General for the Southeastern region of the U.S. in Atlanta, Ga.
He is married to Einat and has three children.