Israel's consul seeks to expand trade with NHBy JOHN DiSTASO
Senior Political Reporter
January 26. 2013 7:23PM
MANCHESTER - New Hampshire would do well to follow the lead of Massachusetts in at least one regard - to engage in more trade with Israel and attract Israeli firms to expand in the state, that nation's top diplomat to the region says.
Shai Bazak, Israel's consul general to New England, met with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster last Thursday, and came away impressed.
He said in an interview he also considers Sen. Kelly Ayotte "a friend" who "has a great future."
"It's refreshing" that the state has women in top offices, he said. "It's a very good sign to the United States and to the world. You are leading the world."
Bazak said several Israeli-owned businesses operate in the state, including defense contractor Kollsman Inc., a subsidiary of Israeli-based Elbit Systems Ltd.
He said he invited Hassan to Israel for a trade mission.
"We can attract Israeli companies to open here and to hire more people here and create more jobs," said Bazak.
Since Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick went to Israel several years ago, Bazak said, there has been a strong uptick in Israeli-owned firms in the Bay State, resulting in billions of dollars in revenue to that state.
"We can bring revenue to New Hampshire, as we do to Massachusetts," he said.
Bazak, 45, has been the Israeli consul general to New England, based in Boston, since 2010. A longtime friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bazak served as Netanyahu's media director and spokesman when he was the leader of the opposition party, from 1994 to 1996, and during Netanyahu's first term as a prime minister, from 1996 to 1998.
A former sharpshooter in the Israeli Defense Forces, Bazak also formerly headed a high-tech American private investment company in Israel, Old City Partners, and served on a committee charged with regulating commercial television and radio in Israel.
In last Tuesday's Israeli election, Netanyahu's Likud Party retained enough seats in the parliament, the Knesset, to keep him in office. That was never in question, Bazak said.
But Likud lost seats as the new centrist Yesh Atid party, headed by former newsman Yair Lapid, gained power.
Lapid did not challenge Netanyahu's hard-line policies on the Iranian nuclear threat, conflict with the Palestinians or the overall tumult in the Arab world. Bazak, however, said as a result of the election, the government will be "more moderate" in those areas.
"It will make it easier for Netanyahu to negotiate with the Palestinians," Bazak said.
Lapid ran on mostly domestic issues, including a controversial call to force so-called "ultra-Orthodox" Jews to begin paying taxes and serving in the military.
This group is supported by the taxpayers, and on Friday, various ultra-Orthodox parties vowed to band together to fight the changes sought by Lapid's party.
"We have an old joke in Israel," said Bazak. "One-third of the people are going to work every morning, one-third are paying taxes, and one-third of Israel is going to the army. The only problem is that it is the same one-third."
While that is an exaggeration, Bazak said the middle-class "is carrying more and more weight, and this is why Lapid got so many votes."
Bazak said about a dozen parties are represented in the parliament. He said the new influence given to Yesh Atid and other parties "shows the strength of the Israeli democracy."
Bazak shied away from the well-publicized cool relations between the Obama administration and Netanyahu, saying the United States and Israel are ultimately strong allies that have had "ups and downs, as all friends have." He noted U.S. public support for Israel is strong.
But Bazak declined comment on the recent U.S. sale of F-16 fighter aircrafts to Egypt.
He also would not comment on Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama's nominee to be secretary of defense, who has been criticized for using harsh language about Israel.
Bazak said peace in Israel and the Palestinian territory will come only when the Palestinians and Arabs understand that the United States stands "100 percent behind Israel."
He said when critics in the Arab world or the media "try to say that the position of the United States should be balanced to make this guy compromise or the other guy compromise, this is not equal.
"The Israelis have already proven ourselves that we want to compromise," said Bazak. "We have already made concessions."
He said the Arab world should know they "cannot push Israel more than what they did already.
"This is it," he said. "We have our back to the wall and have offered everything we can. There will be no more concessions.
"When the Arabs understand that, they will stop the illusions and come to negotiate and have peace with us. I believe they understand that America will be there for Israel, always, no matter what.
"I hope that they will soon come to the negotiating table because the moon in the skies of the Middle East is shining on the heads of their children just the same as our children," Bazak said. "And they deserve to sleep a good night's sleep as much as our children do.
"The only difference is we educate our children to want peace, and the other side, unfortunately, does not do so," said Bazak.