A conversation with Israeli diplomat Itay Milner
DiplomacyMilner spent time in the South Hills

A conversation with Israeli diplomat Itay Milner

I'm a career diplomat; I'm not a politician. I'm not appointed by politicians. I have a career in diplomacy, not in media or any specific issue.

Photo provided by Israel Consulate.
Photo provided by Israel Consulate.

Itay Milner, spokesperson and consul for media affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York, was in Pittsburgh Feb. 20-21, speaking at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, meeting with residents at Concordia of the South Hills and talking with students in the Mt. Lebanon School District.

Before his discussion at Beth El, Milner sat down with the Chronicle.

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

You are the spokesperson and consul for media affairs at the Israeli Consulate. What does that mean?
I’m a career diplomat; I’m not a politician. I’m not appointed by politicians. I have a career in diplomacy, not in media or any specific issue. I’m in charge of the relations between the Israeli government and U.S. media. That includes all of the legacy news outlets: CNN, MSNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal; also a lot of new emerging outlets, independent writers, people that write on Substack, people that write blogs, TikTok influencers, Instagrammers, Twitter and all of those areas.

A lot of antisemitism and anti-Israeli rhetoric exists in some of the new platforms. How do you combat that?
We’re seeing it all the time. We get a lot of hate mail. Every day, I’m starting by reading a lot of those hateful comments and people wishing for my death and the death of Israel. What’s important to understand is this hate we see online can be used or be abused in real life. No one knows it better than the community here, in which the deadly attack on the Tree of Life was made by a person who was brainwashed by things that he read online. It is also true in Israel. Just two weeks ago, we had an attack on a synagogue. The attacker was not affiliated with any terrorist group. He was a lone wolf. He was influenced by things that he read online.

We come at it with positive agenda. We are creating relations with American influencers that can put some positive agenda towards Judaism and towards Israel. We are creating our own content. And we are in touch with the authorities and some of the tech industry companies to make sure that hate and incitement isn’t tolerated.

Since the formation of the new governing coalition in Israel, many in the American Jewish community have expressed concern about its direction. Should they be?
The election was two months ago, one of five elections that we have had over the past four years. The majority of Israel elected this government. One can argue whether it’s a large majority or slim majority, but it’s the majority. This government has its own agenda. Many of the issues that they’re promoting are changes in internal Israeli law and the judicial system. I don’t think that’s an issue that reflects on U.S./Israeli relations. It’s something substantial, but it’s mainly substantial for Israelis and for Israel, not for foreign policy.

One issue concerning to the Diaspora community is proposed changes to the Law of Return. Do you think that will happen?
This is a very, very, very sensitive issue. It hasn’t changed since it was legislated. I don’t think it will change anytime soon. There are already members of this coalition objecting, some of them are very influential, like the chairman of the Knesset, Amir Ohana. I highly doubt something substantial will be changed with the policy of the Law of Return.

Do you believe the Israeli government will reach a deal with Saudi Arabia?
I think it’s high on the list of priorities. And I think that the fact that Iran is posing such a threat towards Israel and Saudi Arabia — yesterday, it was published that there is evidence Iran enriched uranium to 87%. That will push both sides to cooperate. Saudi Arabia is the crown jewel of the Abraham Accords — if it happens.

Is Israel more secure because of the Abraham Accords, or does Iran represent too large of an existential threat?
It’s all dependent on if Iran gets nuclear capabilities. As long as they do not have nuclear capabilities, we can cope with the threat. Even if they have it, we can cope with it, but it will change everything.

Iran is sponsoring terrorism in all of the Middle East. It’s sponsoring Hezbollah, Hamas, some of the foes of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Israel has helped relief efforts in Turkey. Do enough people know that?
Bad news sells more than good news, and conflict in Israel will always get much more media attention than issues such as providing humanitarian aid or search-and-rescue to Turkey. My job is to make it the other way around. What’s important is that we saved 19 people, and I think that the Turks appreciate it. It’s a very positive step with our relations with Turkey that has already experienced a revival over the past year. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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