Consul general on hand to thank firefighters

Nogales firefighter Marcela Donovan Hammond and Israeli Consul General Sam Grundwerg at the Tucson Jewish Community Center on Jan. 8. (Marty Johnston)

At a ceremony on Jan. 8 at the Tucson Jewish Community Center honoring local firefighters who helped battle fires in Israel in November, Sam Grundwerg, consul general of Israel to the Southwest United States, commended the volunteers on being their “brother’s keeper,” comparing them to Judah, who, according to the weekly Torah reading, stepped up to act as a guarantor for his brother Benjamin.

“When we think about the act of heroism that all of you displayed by going to Israel in November and doing what you did, such a selfless act and such as sense of responsibility, and being guarantors, you made that statement loud and clear, that you are your brother’s keeper and for that we say, thank you very much,” said Grundwerg, who assumed the role of consul general in August.

More than 150 people gathered at the Tucson Jewish Community Center to honor retired Mt. Lemmon Fire District Chief Randy Ogden, Nogales Fire Captain Pete Ashcraft, Nogales firefighter and arson investigator Marcela Donovan Hammond, Tucson EMS Captain Bruce Avram, Tucson Fire Battalion Chief Kris Blume and Glendale firefighter and paramedic Patrick Hourihan.

Weintraub Israel Center co-chair Jeff Artzi thanked not only the firefighters, but also those who provided support for Israel to combat the disastrous blazes, including the Tucson Holocaust Survivors group, which donated $2,000 from their fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona. Other speakers included Greater Tucson Fire Foundation Chair Mike McKendrick and volunteer organizer Patty Vallance, Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona President and CEO Stuart Mellan, Israel Fire and Rescue Chief of Operations Shmulik Friedman, Israel Consul for Political Affairs Yaki Lopez and Emergency Volunteer Project founder Adi Zahavi.

Grundwerg noted the firefighters’ volunteer efforts are just one example of the ongoing special relationship between Israel and the people of the United States. “It’s important that we come together not just to express our gratitude for the outpouring of help from the Arizona firefighters, the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona during one of Israel’s most challenging disasters, but also to recognize the continued support that Israel receives from all of you throughout the year, through the good times and the bad times. The state-to-state relationship, as well as the personal relationships and friendships that developed between the first responders in Arizona and Israel are critical in advancing grassroots initiatives, strengthening the bond between the people of Israel and the people of Arizona and, in general, with the American people.”

In an interview with the Arizona Jewish Post, Grundwerg, here for his first official visit to Arizona, further stressed the connection between Israel and the United States as a relationship that goes beyond any one presidential administration. “It’s a long history of very close and special bonds, of common goals, shared values and shared destiny. And also, unfortunately, mutual threats and enemies that we fight together, which has been going on for decades.”

He cited the terror attack in Jerusalem that same morning – when a Palestinian man from East Jerusalem ran his car into a group of IDF officers in training, killing four – as an example of the type of shared threats facing Israel and the United States.

“With a change of any administration we don’t expect that special relationship to change,” said Grundwerg. As an example of outgoing President Barack Obama’s strong support of Israel, he referred to the memorandum of understanding signed in September as “unprecedented in its financial support for Israel’s defense.”

But he also noted Israel’s disappointment in the United States’ abstention from vetoing UN Security Council Resolution 2334 on Dec. 23. “It actually pushes peace further away,” he said, by encouraging the Palestinians to continue to internationalize the conflict, rather than
negotiate directly with Israel.  The resolution “moved the goal post or changed the frames of reference for negotiating peace” because it “hyperfocused” on the settlement issue, which is one of many final status issues, he said, that need to be negotiated. The resolution, he added, did not deal in a proportionate way with the issue of incitement “and the culture of hate that the Palestinian leadership unfortunately, in its partnership with the Hamas terror Islamist organization, continues to nurture and develop in Palestinian society. … And it doesn’t deal with the root cause, in our opinion, of the conflict, which is the ongoing Palestinian refusal and rejection of the notion of a Jewish state in any borders.”

Grundwerg emphasized that the disagreement over the resolution “is not a battle between the American people and the Israeli people. It’s a disagreement with this outgoing administration…. And looking ahead, as our prime minister has said, we’re optimistic and excited about working with the incoming administration to continue this long history of close cooperation.”

Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a writer and editor in Tucson.