In many ways, Atlanta reminds Reda Mansour of Israel.
“It’s really amazing how similar we are,” Mr. Mansour, Israel’s consul general for the Southeast U.S., told GlobalAtlanta in a video interview. “I recently discovered that what is now considered metro Atlanta, 28 counties, is almost exactly the same size geographically as the state of Israel. Our gross domestic product is very similar. Atlanta’s is slightly higher, actually.”
Atlanta, like Israel, is becoming increasingly international, said Mr. Mansour, who has lived here for the last three years. “Atlanta has a very exciting international scene,” he said. “Coca-Cola, CNN and Delta are brand names almost in every home around the world.”
As he enters the final months of his stint in Atlanta, Mr. Mansour believes Atlanta and Israel have a lot to learn from each other.
Atlanta can see through Israel’s experience the advantages, economically and otherwise, of embracing immigrants from throughout the world, said the consul general. A diverse citizenry is particularly good for the growing international business sector.
“We made a lot of effort to integrate a lot of international cultures into our society and also to put them to good use,” said Mr. Mansour. “We are so very lucky to have so many Israelis who speak so many languages and can communicate with so many countries around the world for business, for research. Israel in that sense can be a model, how do you integrate this international culture into the fabric of your society and benefit from it?”
Mr. Mansour, a Druze, is himself an example of Israel’s diversity. The Druze are members of an Arab religious community that descended from Islam. There are Druze communities throughout the world, centered in Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
In addition to its Arab citizens, Israel has long welcomed Jewish immigrants from throughout the world including Russia and countries in Africa.
“In the 1990s we received almost 1 million immigrants in a very short period of time, which was almost one-fifth of our population,” said Mr. Mansour. “We had a policy to bring in people, help them with housing, help them find jobs, teach them the language and the culture.”
Further promoting the country’s international flavor, Israelis also place a strong emphasis on traveling abroad at an early age for extended periods of time. After a mandatory three years of military service for both males and females, many Israeli young people take time off for travel abroad, said Mr. Mansour.
“As soon as they finish service in the military, they immediately take off for six months to a year,” he said. “They will travel all over Latin America, all over Africa, the Far East and really come back with a very valuable experience.”
Israel values Atlanta in many ways, particularly as a location for business, said the consul general. There are 50 Israeli companies located in metro Atlanta, many of them having their North American headquarters here, he added.
“They all came here because we made sure they knew that Atlanta and Georgia are very friendly places to locate and that you have here very good schools and a very supportive environment for international companies.”
Another major advantage of Atlanta and Georgia are the universities such as Emory, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Georgia and Georgia State. They are highly valued by Israeli researchers, said Mr. Mansour.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also a great resource for Israeli researchers, he added.
Mr. Mansour, a published poet and historian, last spring helped launch the Rabin-King Initiative at Morehouse College, which seeks to strengthen ties between African–Americans and the Jewish community through courses, oral history projects and other activities. It honors former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Morehouse’s most famous graduate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Both leaders were assassinated, Mr. Rabin in 1995 and Dr. King in 1968. Both were recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.
“The Rabin-King initiative came from our feeling that Atlanta had a significant story to tell, the story of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement,” said Mr. Mansour, “Israel has something very similar with the emergence of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his efforts for peace and integration in Israel.”
Mr. Mansour is now the dean of the Atlanta consular corps. He will complete his posting here in 2010 before going on to another assignment.
Atlanta’s diplomatic community, with 62 consuls, honorary consuls and trade offices, is very active and is a valuable resource that should be more widely used by the community, said Mr. Mansour.
“These representatives are really a wonderful outlet to the world,” he said. “If people here want to have projects, want to advance business cooperation, academic and research cooperation, cultural cooperation with countries around the world, they have here more than 60 representatives that they can speak with directly, with very little effort.”
For more information on the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, click here.