About 20 people filled the patio of a Mesa home Monday afternoon to listen to Ishmael Khaldi, policy advisor to Avigdor Liberman, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Anti-Defamation League of Santa Barbara/Tri Counties and the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara put on the event, and Khaldi’s stop in Santa Barbara was one of several on his tour of California and Nevada. Khaldi has recently published a memoir, A Shepherd’s Journey, The Story of Israel’s First Bedouin Diplomat.
“I’m speaking because I feel there’s a need to talk,” Khaldi began, whose work as an advisor to Liberman began last year. He recently returned to Israel after living in San Francisco, where he held the position of Deputy Consul General for about two-and-a-half years.
His daily routine and responsibilities begin at 4 a.m., he said. He reads news from around the world and is at his office by 6 a.m. A big part of his job as a diplomat, he went on, is traveling and speaking at high schools and colleges both in Israel and abroad; this particular tour is his fifth in the last six months.
He addressed the group with a brief background on his humble beginnings and described his first journey to the United States. He boarded his first flight as a young man who had never even left his Bedouin village — with a population of 450 — let alone Israel. He arrived in New York City, and when he called the only phone number he knew, it was a stranger on the other end, not the friend he was expecting. He thought the only option he had was to board the first flight back, but he told himself, “I came, and I have to survive.” He found help from someone in the airport and headed to Brooklyn.
Eventually, Khaldi returned to Israel to go back to school. He attended Tel Aviv University and has since worked for the Israeli Defense Ministry, the Israeli Police Force, and as a political analyst for the Israeli Defense Force. In 2004, he joined the Foreign Ministry, then eventually landed in San Francisco. He is Israel’s first Bedouin diplomat.
Khaldi said when he graduated high school, he would never have imagined he would lead the life he does. Until the age of eight he lived in a tent crowded with his parents and siblings. It was his parents who recognized his talent and encouraged him to continue his education beyond high school. He is the only one of his 11 siblings to attend college.
Khaldi then spoke about the more political aspects of his job and addressed the Gaza conflict. He said that the conflict with Palestine is up and down, but “nothing is moving.” He recognized that Israel is not a perfect country, and knows that cooperation is key in this struggle.
“I have to calm down and hold my horses,” he said. “I cannot change the world.”
Khaldi made clear to the group that he doesn’t think Hamas represents the Palestinians of Gaza. He said that not only could the Palestinians overthrow Hamas, it’s their responsibility to do so.
“The Palestinians deserve a state of their own,” he said. “Gaza is a third-world country. Their infrastructure is not like Santa Barbara,” and services such as medicine and technology are not as available as they are throughout most of Israel.
“The ones who are suffering today are the people in Gaza,” he added.
In addition to being the first Bedouin diplomat in Israel, Khaldi — a Muslim — is part of the approximately 20 percent of Israelis who are not Jewish. He said it doesn’t create too much conflict in his job; his Israeli spirit is strong. He said he and other minorities in Israel still have the same rights and proudly identify with Israeli culture.
“It gives me more motivation,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re Israeli.”