Meir Shlomo, consul general for Israel, works from his nation’s offices in Houston, Texas. In an exclusive interview, Shlomo spoke about what might be the worst forest fire in modern Israel’s history. The conflagration ravaged the Carmel Forest in northern Israel.
Members of pro-Israel organizations are encouraging support in the recovery. At a recent MidCity dinner honoring arts advocate Betty Price, many speakers encouraged support for “plant a tree” programs and other practical steps to assist in restoring the forests and improving Israeli emergency response to fires.
Shlomo said, “The fire was so catastrophic due to the problem of extreme dryness and very strong winds in the area. More than anything what challenged the firefighters was the quick pace with which it spread.
“Already 15 countries have responded to help in fighting the fire and dealing with the aftermath of it. We were grateful for the assistance from, of course, the United States, and also Russia, Turkey, Greece, the United Kingdom, France and others. And the Palestinians sent a couple of fire trucks to give a hand, as well.”
Susan Robertson of Oklahoma Israel Exchange (OKIE), the group that honored Price, talked about the nightmare: “Flames engulfed a bus, killing all 43 new fire department recruits who were on their way to evacuate Palestinian prisoners. Thousands of acres of forest, over five million trees, have been reduced to ashes.”
On strategic issues, Shlomo told CapitolBeatOK, “Unfortunately the negotiations with the Palestinians seem to be stuck on a side issue, the settlements, which seems more important to outsiders than in the area. But we are continuing to talk because the only way to have Palestinians and Israelis living side by side one another is to have some understanding.
“As for the larger circle in the region and in the world, it is important to understand where we are right now. Iran is a major instigator of instability and unrest in the region and in the world. Now it is clearer than ever that their footprints are in Afghanistan and in Iraq. … The question is simple. How aggressive will they be when they do have a nuclear weapon in their arsenal?”
Meir reflected, “Groups like OKIE feed hope. I think most of the issues that Israel faces are the same issues that the whole western world is facing. … These last 10 years have made this all clearer. Israel has long faced the scourge of terrorism and airplane hijacking. In the end, we are all in the same boat, it seems. Iran, it is true, is the most important challenge now facing us all, but they are not the only challenge. It is to build a better future for our children, to establish that structure, that gives hope.”
He continued, “People have to be involved to advocate for a better future. Speak up. Work and do all we can to defend Israel in solving these problems, and the way of life involved in our countries.”
Shlomo oversees Israel’s relations in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Gary Miller of Norman, now president of OKIE, is married to Rietta Miller, the sister of U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who spoke at a recent fundraiser for the local Chabad Jewish Center.
In comments at the Price event, Miller said, “OKIE is a unique organization, integral in bringing together diverse communities from across the state to work for a common purpose. It is a cutting-edge model for cooperation, partnership, and projects of mutual benefit and is one of the most dynamic exchange/partnership programs between any U.S. state and the State of Israel.O
Miller pointed to practical economic benefits flowing from OKIE’s work. He said OKIE “facilitates and fosters enhanced cooperation between the State of Israel and the State of Oklahoma in matters pertaining to commerce, culture, education and agriculture.”
At the Price event, observations and prayers were offered by the three rabbis in Oklahoma City, Abby Jacobson of Emanuel Synagogue, Barry Cohen of Temple B’Nai Israel and Ovadia Goldman of the Chabad Community Center.
Shlomo, who had not visited Oklahoma previously, said the gathering “was a good sign of how important and good a group like OKIE is, and how effective Susan Robertson is. In fact, I was in New Mexico just last week at the founding of a similar organization for that state. They had invited Susan to come there. In looking for a model they said her approach here in Oklahoma was the best fit for what they wanted to do.”