Israeli-Bedouin diplomat says Israel’s diversity is abundant

by | Jan 10, 2014 | Other News

Elli Friedman, Ishmael Khaldi and Andie Eichelbaum.

Elli Friedman, Ishmael Khaldi and Andie Eichelbaum.

If anyone can speak about diversity in Israel, it’s Israeli diplomat, Ishmael Khaldi.

An Israeli-Bedouin-Arab-Muslim, Khaldi has been a minority his entire life—from the Arab Christian school he attended in the north of Israel, to college, to his service in the Israeli Defense Forces, the police, the Foreign Ministry, and even today in his diplomatic postings around the world.

In Virginia Beach Dec. 12–13, Khaldi spoke to almost 500 people: students, the media, NATO dignitaries, and to an audience that included more than 180 community members on Thursday, Dec. 12 at the Sandler Family Campus.

Khaldi was the first of three featured speakers in the Israel Today Forum, a series presented by the Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and individual, business, organizational and synagogue partners. His topic, fittingly, was Diversity in Israel.

“It may be difficult, being a diplomat, but I do believe that people want to hear my story, and they can learn from it—about all of the opportunities there are in Israel and about how it’s flourishing,” says Khaldi.

“We are not perfect. Nobody can ignore there is discrimination there. But the vast majority of people, and the younger generation in particular, enjoy their rights, living in the only democracy in the Middle East. I believe we’re going in the right direction,” Khaldi says. “People also should remember, Israel itself is a minority in the Middle East. When it comes to judging Israel, the state, which people do all the time, you have to look at all of those things.”

Khaldi spoke about his childhood, describing his life herding sheep and his home until he was eight—a traditional Bedouin tent. He shared his experiences as a young man visiting New York and America for the first time, his diplomatic appointments in San Francisco, Jerusalem, and, currently, in London.

“I enjoyed hearing Ishmael’s presentation, very much, as well as having the opportunity to spend some time with him,” says Rabbi Aron Margolin, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Tidewater.

“First of all, he brings a universal perspective that we don’t learn or hear about very often. That’s very important for us. And it’s very important for others to hear, too. They need to be aware of who’s saying what to whom—here we have a man whose life is successful, who shares with other people the possibilities that are in Israel.”

Khaldi says he feels it is his responsibility to speak honestly about Israel, both its positives and negatives, and to dispel myths and non-truths about his homeland. When asked by an audience member how to tell good Muslims from a bad, Khaldi responded by stating his own beliefs, shared by—among many—his father, that nowhere in the Koran is violence and hatred a priority over love and peace, and to interpret the Muslim holy book that way is wrong.

The next speaker in the Israel Today series is Gil Troy. This free and open to the public discussion takes place on Wednesday, Jan. 29.

For more information about this and other CRC initiatives, visit

by Laine Mednick Rutherford