From Bill Sutter’s Desk Nov/Dec 2009

Raslan Abu Rukun. His name is more Arabic than Jewish. Yet a few months ago, 33-year-old Raslan Abu Rukun was welcomed to his new post as Israel’s deputy consul general in the office of the Consulate of Israel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Abu Rukun is an Arab-Israeli, a member of Israel’s Druze community, which is well-known for its loyalty to the Jewish state.

Israel’s Druze population of some 130,000 has a rich heritage dating back to the 10th century in Egypt. After separating from Islam, the Druze fled persecution and, for security reasons, settled in the mountainous regions of Syria and Lebanon and, today, in Israel as well. Israel’s Druze live in two major towns in the area of Mount Carmel near Haifa.

Since the birth of the modern State of Israel in 1948, when Druze volunteer units fought side by side with Israel’s Jewish defenders, the Druze have participated fully in Israeli life. Abu Rukun proudly proclaims, “We are 100 percent Israeli.” In fact, the Druze have been part of Israel’s compulsory military service since 1955. As one of our Israeli tour guides once said respectfully, “The Druze are good fighters.” They are the only non-Jews drafted into the military.

Abu Rukun assumes the number two spot at the Consulate of Israel in Philadelphia, which represents Israel in southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky. The Israeli Foreign Ministry assigned him here following his two years of earlier service at the Embassy of Israel in Nepal.

Reporting to Daniel Kutner, consul general of Israel in Philadelphia, Abu Rukun’s duties fall into three major areas: administration and budget, as head of the Consulate’s 18-member staff; political and commercial activity on behalf of the State of Israel; and consular matters, such as visas and other services to Israelis and non-Israelis living in the mid-Atlantic states.

Even though several Arab parties are represented in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, the Druze vote mostly for mainstream Israeli parties. Three Druze serve in the Knesset—one each in the Likud, Kadima, and Israel-Our-Home parties.

Abu Rukun’s service for the State of Israel started with an intense, six-month cadet diplomatic course. At that time he was the only cadet from the Druze community. However, he expects many more to follow. Today about a dozen Druze serve as diplomats for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

As we visited recently in his office at the Consulate, Abu Rukun’s eyes took on a particular sparkle when he learned of our Friends of Israel connection to his hometown of Isfia. It is there that many of our “Up to Jerusalem” tour participants have experienced legendary Druze hospitality, dining in Druze homes on genuine ethnic foods while hearing stories about Druze culture and traditions.

Freely expressing his warm appreciation for Israel, Abu Rukun told me, “There are a lot of good things, especially democracy and the freedom of religion.”

He also shared his feelings about Israel’s Christian supporters. “As a diplomat,” he said, “I have come to understand the importance of Israel’s Christian friends and the many ways they help tell Israel’s story. Today there is a lot of criticism of Israel all over the world, all of the time. It makes me angry to hear the lies. I encourage our Christian friends to visit Israel, see it with their own eyes, and respond to Israel’s critics with the truth.”

Concerning Iran, Abu Rukun became decidedly serious about the impending danger. “Israel is doing its best to avoid a nuclear Iran, which is a threat to Israel, the region, and the entire world.”

Any time someone attempts to brand Israel as racist or use the term apartheid to describe the Jewish state, they will get no sympathy from me. I will immediately think of Raslan Abu Rukun; and I hope you will, too.

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