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Cablegate: Consular Field Trip to Haifa

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Consular Field Trip to Haifa

1. Begin summary: On 13 December 2004, the American
officers of the Consular Section traveled to Israel's
northern port city of Haifa for meetings with community
leaders, including the mayor, the chief of police, and
others, as well as from a tour of the Haifa Consular
Agency. Officers benefited from exposure to Israel's most
culturally diverse and progressive city. End summary.

2. On 13 December 2004, a group of 10 Embassy consular
officers traveled to Haifa to meet with city and community
leaders and visit the Consular Agency. Haifa is Israel's
third most populous city, after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,
with a population of just over 300,000. Its population is
diverse by Israeli standards, with some 82% Jewish-
Israelis, 10% Arab-Israelis (split evenly between
Christians and Muslims), and 8% classified as "other."
Haifa is also home, for the time being, to Israel's largest
seaport (though according to Mayor Yona Yohav, Haifa's port
will be soon be exceeded in size by the newer port in
Ashdod). Though the city's local economy has suffered from
the economic stagnation throughout Israel of recent years,
it benefits from the presence of Intel, Microsoft, and
other high-tech facilities. Haifa is also home to two of
Israel's most prestigious universities, Haifa University
and the Technion.

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Mayor Yahav

3. The first meeting of the day was with Haifa's Mayor,
Yona Yahav. Mayor Yahav, a Labor-party veteran who served
after graduation from Hebrew University law school as an
aide to legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, was elected
in 2003 as the candidate of the Green, Neighborhood, and
Shinui Parties. He has a daughter in law school at Yale.
The mayor discussed at length a theme that was repeated
throughout the day: the historical tolerance and ethnic
diversity that characterizes Haifa and gives residents of
the city an optimistic outlook elsewhere in short supply
among Israelis. The Mayor hopes to raise Haifa's profile
worldwide as a unique model of a positive, culturally
inclusive future not just for the Israel but for the entire
Middle East. He showed conoffs a short film building on
the above themes, which he had been proud to present at the
August 2004 AIPAC meeting in the US. He noted that AIPAC
groups are now adding Haifa to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as
necessary stops on their visits to Israel.

Police Chief Meriesh

4. (SBU) Haifa District Police Chief Nir Meriesh Col.
Meriesh graduated with a BA in business administration from
Haifa University, as well as a master's in government from
the JFK School of Government at Harvard, where he went on
scholarship. A former IDF Major, he served in the past as
commandant of the Police Academy in Israel, as commander of
the northern division of the local highway patrol, and as
commandant of the police officers academy. Mariesh
described for conoffs not just the success of the police in
maintaining civic order among closely knit Arab and Jewish
Israeli communities, but also the challenges of dealing
with and encouraging assimilation of recent immigrants from
the Former Soviet Union (FSU).

5. (SBU) According to Mariesh, many of these immigrants
had forced Haifa to confront largely unknown problems,,
including organized crime families, drug trafficking,
prostitution and homelessness. He spoke graphically of
alcoholic immigrants emerging from passenger vessels in the
port to disappear into the streets with their meager
belongings, turning up later in hospitals or dead. To cope
with the problems, Mariesh said he actively recruits FSU
immigrants to serve on the police force and in social
welfare jobs, hoping thereby to improve ties with and
intelligence on groups comprising the community.

6. (SBU) Meriesh also described the police staffing strain
imposed by the need to prioritize response to/anticipation
of terrorist attacks and/or political disturbances. When a
major incident occurs or is feared likely to occur in Tel
Aviv or Jerusalem, the Haifa police force, like those
elsewhere, are called on to supply officers. Col. Meriesh
says Haifa can ill-afford to lend its officers and that the
city invariably suffers a spike in crime when the force is

Haifa University

7. After a visit to the harmoniously multi-ethnic Rubin
Conservatory of Music, one of Israel's leading music
schools, and the Bahai Centre and Gardens, the world
headquarters of the faith, the trip concluded with a visit
to Haifa University to meet with Professor of History and
outgoing Dean of Students, Ron Robin. Professor Robin
highlighted the unequalled ethnic diversity of the students
at Haifa University: 20% of the total student body are
Arab Israelis as well as 7% of the social science faculty.
Robin was careful, though, to characterize HU as
"pluralistic" rather than "multicultural." He said that the
dominant culture on campus is Jewish-Israeli, and the
language in the classroom is Hebrew. Nevertheless, he
stressed that within this framework, all viewpoints and
cultures are given space for expression.

8. During his term as Dean, the Professor noted, he had
prioritized establishing links with the city of Haifa. He
is particularly proud of a program he initiated whereby
students are housed in depressed neighborhoods in exchange
for grant money. The goal of the program is to provide the
children of these neighborhoods with positive role models
and promote university education as an avenue of social
advancement. Some 100 students are expected to participate
during the next school year.

9. Comment: Conoffs benefited from a first-hand look at
and discussion of economic and other conditions in Israel's
third-largest city, as well as a tour of the Consular
Agency. Junior Officers, especially, enjoyed an
opportunity, for many of them the first, to participate in
meetings with host-government officials and others.

10. The tone of the trip was refreshingly upbeat.
Optimism mixed with communal pride in the presentations by
each of the three principal hosts. All stressed that the
success of the Muslim and Jewish inhabitants of Haifa in
living harmoniously together should be considered a model
for peace throughout the Middle East. End comment.


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