The Shmooze

Chatting with Israeli Diplomat Elad Strohmayer

By Michael Kaminer

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Elad Strohmayer, 31, is a relatively new face in Israeli diplomacy. He took the reins as second-in-command at the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia last summer. With a background in humanitarian law, Strohmayer is now completing a master’s degree in international relations while juggling day-to-day duties in political affairs, outreach, press, academia, culture, government relations and economic development. He’s also gay, in a field with few high-ranking officials who are out. The Forward’s Michael Kaminer chatted with Strohmayer about Israel’s “pinkwashing” controversy, its political challenges and its surprising economic ties to the city of Philadelphia.

Michael Kaminer: Before Philadelphia, you were posted in Luanda, Angola. How do they compare?

Elad Strohmayer: It’s hard to compare the posts. But one thing is for sure: I feel very fortunate to have had the experience in Luanda. In the U.S., I have the comforts of the developed world. Angola is going through a wave of development and daily living is getting better. In Philadelphia, we work in a consulate and in Angola it is an embassy, so there are different responsibilities. There is no established Jewish community in Angola, and, of course,
Courtesy of Elad Strohmayer
Elad Strohmayer at an orphanage in Angola.

Philadelphia has a large community. This is a key factor in my work. I’ve enjoyed warm and caring people in both places. I’ve made lasting friends in Angola, and in Philly I am doing the same. Plus, direct flights to Tel Aviv [make] traveling back and forth from home easier.

For someone in your position, what’s the biggest challenge politically?

Israel is facing serious challenges: the situation in Syria, the uncertainty of a new government in Egypt and the constant threat of a nuclear Iran. It is important to remember that Iran is not only a threat to Israel, but a threat to the stability of the Middle East and the entire international community.

You told Philadelphia Gay News that being gay hasn’t been an issue at work. Was being out ever a concern in any of the places you’ve been posted?

As a diplomat, I have learned to respect the culture of my post. And I typically keep my private life to myself, so it’s generally not an issue. I won’t change my lifestyle and won’t change who I am. Is it true that being gay is not well received in many countries? Yes, but a diplomat has so much more to offer than conversation about sexual orientation.

The “pinkwashing” controversy continues to make headlines. How do you respond to claims that Israel’s stance on human rights for LGBT people just papers over other issues?

People want a perfect world, and there’s no such thing. Israel is not perfect and neither is any other country. Every country is multidimensional. That doesn’t stop it from underscoring its values, culture, traditions and other positive aspects. There is a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to Israel-related issues; many tend to relate Israel only to the conflict, and it is more than that. Because of this, I don’t see anything wrong with showcasing Israel as an open, liberal society that happens to be very advanced in gay rights. Conversely, gay Palestinians seek safe haven in Israel because they are persecuted. I ask you: Why are the people who say “pinkwashing” so focused on the only country in the Middle East where it’s okay to be gay? And, when it comes to other countries that actually persecute and execute gays, they remain silent?  

The “pinkwashing” controversy continues to make headlines. How do you respond to claims that Israel’s stance on human rights for LGBT people just papers over other issues?

People want a perfect world, and there’s no such thing. Israel is not perfect and neither is any other country. Every country is multidimensional. That doesn’t stop it from underscoring its values, culture, traditions and other positive aspects. There is a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to Israel-related issues; many tend to relate Israel only to the conflict, and it is more than that. Because of this, I don’t see anything wrong with showcasing Israel as an open, liberal society that happens to be very advanced in gay rights. Conversely, gay Palestinians seek safe haven in Israel because they are persecuted. I ask you: Why are the people who say “pinkwashing” so focused on the only country in the Middle East where it’s okay to be gay? And, when it comes to other countries that actually persecute and execute gays, they remain silent?

What drew you to a foreign-service career?

I grew up in a home with socially involved parents. I learned from a young age to give back to my country and to my community. My mother is a retired kindergarten teacher and is still an active member of the teachers union in Israel. My father volunteered for the police a few times a week. So you can see I learned to give back by example. Throughout my career, I have valued my studies in international relations at Hebrew University. My work at the Jewish Agency placed me in various communities throughout North America, which enhanced my passion for the international arena. I was always interested in world news and foreign affairs. So when you combine all of the above, it was a natural decision to try out for the diplomatic corps.

Israel is Pennsylvania’s fourth-largest source of imports — which grew from $3.7 billion in 2009 to $5.1 billion in both 2010 and 2011. How are you planning to strengthen ties? Does Israel have a strong enough presence culturally and economically in the Philadelphia area?

Israel’s presence in the Philadelphia area is increasing. We plan to arrange business delegations to explore the huge trade and commerce potential we have between Israel and the six-state region, which consists of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. Here in Philadelphia, and around the region, we have a big cultural presence that will continue to grow.

Does your partner just schlep with you every time you get a new posting?

I’m still settling into Philly, as I just arrived last month and am looking for an apartment. I have a partner in Israel and the relationship is relatively new. He will visit me for the High Holidays and on other occasions.


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