After First Visit Here, Ofir Akunis Promises to Return

Ofir Akunis’ visit came during the reconfiguration of the Israeli government with Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Liberman agreeing to become defense minister.

Ofir Akunis had never visited Philadelphia before May 18, but the Israeli minister of science, technology and space, who was here in a different capacity, vowed in his best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice from The Terminator, “I’ll be back.”
“I met a beautiful community with beautiful people,” Akunis told the Jewish Exponent following a meeting with area rabbis at Congregation Mikveh Israel in Center City, after visiting the National Museum of American Jewish History. “There’s a lot of passion first of all to help each other inside the community itself and be a community that supports Israel.
“I was glad to meet some of the leaders of the community, and next time I want to meet more people. It’s very important that members of the Knesset or ministers like myself meet people in more and more Jewish communities in the United States, not just in New York or Los Angeles.”
Prior to visiting Philadelphia, Akunis was in Baltimore, where he spoke with representatives from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland in a more scientific vein. But for the most part, this trip — which concluded in New York — wasn’t job-related.
“I met with the directors of the [Jewish Agency for Israel] in Jerusalem four months ago,” explained Akunis, “and they said, ‘Why not come here and meet other communities?’ I said, ‘It’s a very good idea.’
“My last trip to the United States to California, I signed an agreement with the state for joint research on stem cells. I’ve traveled to China and South Korea, and my next trip will be to India. But I’m not here as minister of science.”
Akunis’ visit, which was coordinated locally by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, came during the reconfiguration of the Israeli government with Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Liberman — once the Minister of Foreign Affairs — agreeing to become defense minister under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lieberman’s brings with him his party’s six Knesset seats, giving Netanyahu a more manageable 67-seat bloc.
“As we said when we took over the government last May, we want a wider-based coalition,” explained Akunis, a deputy minister in the prime minister’s office before being elevated to his current post in September. “Bring more stability to the government. In front of us is the next budget. We want it be approved during the summer session of the Knesset, which begins this week.
“But in the last 15 years, we find ourselves having elections every two years. It’s really impossible. We don’t think it’s good for the stability of the economy.”
Speaking of this country’s political cycle, especially the presidential race whose results certainly could impact Israel, Akunis wouldn’t take sides.
“My policy and my attitude on the issues of elections in the U.S. is this is your business,” said Akunis, who turns 43 on May 28.
 “I will say I heard the two main candidates both make beautiful declarations about the relationship in the future under their regime with Israel. I’m glad.
“I want their support, but I think not only they, but everyone in America should support Israel because we are twins. We are real democracies. And we are the lighthouse of the free world. Most Americans are with us.”
But then there are those not only in opposition, but who are trying to inject their views through the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to turn both Americans and those in other countries against Israel. According to Akunis, it’s up to all members of the Jewish communiy to keep them from spreading their message.
“It’s necessary, especially lately, because of the ugly initiatives of the BDS,” said Akunis, who’ll be in Washington, D.C. in September for the Israeli American Council national conference. “The problem with BDS is they repeat their lies time after time after time after time, so that you can find people who believe their lies — even among the Jewish communities.
“One of the goals of my trip … is the struggle for the truth. The truth is with us and someone should answer their lies. The someone is the government. The someone is you. The someone is the community. The young generation. The old generation.”
He said Israel is anything but a country that denies its citizens — Jew or non-Jew — their civil rights.
“There is not a problem of civil rights in Israel. This is a huge lie,” Akunis said. “They should deal with civil rights in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq — not in Israel. The only place in the Middle East where there are civil rights — the only place — is Israel.
“And they’re going to the institutes and universities with their flags of the PLO. I can’t accept it. You should not accept it and should convince the Jewish people not to.”
As for his trip here, Akunis was struck by two things.
“I was very proud to see the Israeli flag in the beginning of  [Benjamin Franklin Parkway],” he said. “It was very exciting to see it was the first flag.
“And the museum [of American Jewish History] was amazing. I felt so good seeing it because it tells the historical story of Jews who came to America. They were part of America from the beginning. The Jewish communities in America are an important part. It’s an amazing story in an amazing museum.”
Having seen that and spoken at length with Jewish community leaders, the minister said when he gets home he’ll try to exert his influence with Netanyahu not to shut down the Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region, which is headquartered in Philadelphia.
“It’s the wrong decision,” Akunis said. “I will talk with [Netanyahu] and the next minister of foreign affairs when I get back. There is still time to change back. I don’t think they know what happens here — the economic relationship between all the tech companies that work here and Israel.”
Regardless of what transpires, Akunis said his visit to Philadelphia was a bit of an eye opener.
“I did not know about the activity of community and was very glad to see support of Hillel,” he said. “It’s very important the next generation, the young generation, supports Israel.
“And I was surprised to see Philadelphia is the twin city of my city — Tel Aviv. I want to thank the community for the warm welcome and their support to the state of Israel, and I’ll be back.”
Contact:; 215-832-0729


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here