Benjamin Krasna, Israel’s deputy consul general in New York, has fond memories of the past five years living in Teaneck. But when he returns home next month at the end of his appointment, there is one thing he definitely will not miss.
“The hardest part of the challenge for me was the daily commute,” he said, noting that sometimes he would spend hours trying to cross the George Washington Bridge. Still, the pluses outweighed the minuses for him, his wife Sharon, and their three children, who found the modern-Orthodox lifestyle of Teaneck and day schools of Bergen County a good fit.
“Teaneck worked,” he said. “It was a very, very good match for us – in spite of the George Washington Bridge.”
|After five years as Israel’s deputy consul general in New York, Benjamin Krasna is returning to Israel next month.|
But with such an active and Israel-focused Jewish community, Krasna’s became a 24/7 job. At Cong. Keter Torah, where the Krasnas were members, congregants would often express their opinions on Israel’s policies and offer Krasna advice.
“You’re in a situation where every Shabbat is another hasbara challenge,” he said.
Balancing a job like that with family life can be a challenge, but Krasna said he made his choices strike that balance.
“You work very hard to protect Shabbat and Sunday … so you can do normal Sunday things – coaching soccer, going to Little League games, things like that,” he said. “If I decide on this day I need to be at my kid’s party at school, then fine, I’ll go and do that. I’ll make the time. You have to find those moments to free the time up for them as well.”
As the Jewish state’s No. 2 man in New York, Krasna has been responsible for keeping a bead on national Jewish groups and how they interact with Israel. Rather than simply responding to requests for information or appearances, Krasna took a proactive approach. He has spent more time than any of his predecessors, he said, visiting smaller communities outside the metropolitan area.
Literally the day Krasna first arrived in New Jersey, his government was uprooting thousands of Jewish settlers from Gaza under the disengagement plan. Then came the capture of three Israeli soldiers, the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead, the election of America’s first black president, two elections in Israel. Also, the Giants won the Super Bowl and the Yankees won the World Series (again). But, he complained, “the Knicks didn’t get any better.”
One question in particular has become routine at every event, no matter who the sponsor is, and it’s a question Krasna will not miss answering.
“And that was about Israel’s PR,” he said. “I think Israel does a very good job. We make strong efforts to make people know about the multifaceted nature of Israel, Israel beyond the conflict.”
As PR successes, he pointed to the worldwide consensus on Iran, widespread support in Congress, and a recent Gallup poll that indicated more than 60 percent of Americans support Israel – a level not seen since the 1991 Gulf War.
“We have to understand also that sometimes being the stronger in the conflict means that public sentiment may lean a little towards the weaker,” Krasna said. “The fact of the matter is I still don’t want to be the weaker, I want to be the stronger. If I look at the level of understanding there was during the war in Lebanon – publicly in America – or during the war in Gaza, we basically had public opinion on our side to take the action we needed to take.”
Many point to Israel’s delay in releasing footage from the Mavi Marmara – that showed activists attacking Israeli soldiers – as a publicity misstep. Krasna quickly disagreed.
“It was a conscious decision taken to delay the release of some of the photographs and footage,” he said. “We paid a PR price for that. You have to remember when an operation is ongoing – literally, ships are still at sea, soldiers are still there – we have other considerations that come first regarding the safety of our soldiers. You need to successfully bring this operation to a conclusion.”
One area where Krasna would like to see more emphasis is Israel education of high school students. Much has been made in recent years about the college campus as the latest battleground for Israeli public relations. Krasna, however, believes that battle needs to begin long before students get to campus.
“If our kids don’t feel comfortable enough in their own skins as pro-Israel advocates, their choice is going to be to avoid confrontation,” he said. “They don’t have the arguments and they don’t want to be faced with a case where somebody’s going to confront them.
“That’s why we need to invest in education before they get there.”
Today’s youth – and Krasna’s generation, as well, he noted – can take Israel’s existence for granted because they never knew a world without the Jewish state.
“We all run the risk of taking for granted the fact that we live in a world with the State of Israel, which is a better world because of the State of Israel. We’re all a generation born into it,” he said. “Israel is not just Ben Yehuda [Street], or the Inbal Hotel [in Jerusalem], or nightlife in Tel Aviv. Israel is battles that were fought, people who sacrificed, and things we can be proud of.”
Krasna grew up in a Zionist home in Forest Hills, Queens, and made aliyah with his family when he was 11. Although his family returned to the United States a few years later, Krasna formed a lifelong connection with the Jewish state and, after completing a bachelor’s degree in Middle East studies at Rutgers in 1986, he returned to Israel for his mandatory military service.
He left Israel again to complete a master’s degree in international relations at Johns Hopkins University. And when he returned to Israel, he got his first diplomatic break – in the form of a newspaper ad calling for diplomats. He applied and was accepted.
Starting in 1997, he served as Israel’s deputy consul general in Istanbul, as the spokesman of the Israeli embassy in The Hague, and specializing in the Multilateral European Institutions Western European Division of the Ministry in Jerusalem.
And what’s next for the career diplomat?
“Home,” he said. “Home is to enjoy a house that I bought before I came here and haven’t had a chance to live in yet. Home is seeing my kids reacquaint themselves with Israel – in the case of my youngest … seeing him acquaint himself with Israel.”
As he prepares to head home, Krasna has but one lingering regret.
“I’d be more careful about what I ate at these [gala] dinners. A smorgasbord is a very dangerous thing,” he said. “As a general rule I chose the carving station over the sushi every time.”