New vice consul promoting pro-Israel path to peace

Through the conference room windows of the Consulate General of Israel's Financial District office, one can't help but notice the many sailboats leisurely bobbing across the gray-blue bay.

To the left, Coit Tower is surrounded by greenery and framed by the cloudless sky. And from the 21st floor, the distant Port of San Francisco clock tower appears like a tiny Tinker Toy.

But new vice consul and newlywed Gil Lainer is not distracted. Professionally, "These are not easy times," he said. Since arriving in San Francisco seven weeks ago, his attention has been deflected from his new marriage and the Bay Area's "beautiful landscape, atmosphere and people" to much more somber matters.

"The people's security in Israel is a major issue of concern right now," said the 29-year-old native of Nazerat Illit and former journalist at radio station 103 FM in Tel Aviv. "We need to do whatever we can to get Israel's word out."

With that in mind, Lainer took part in recent pro-Israel rallies in San Francisco and Palo Alto, organized in reaction to the Middle East turmoil. At the South Bay rally last week he spoke to the crowd on the need to secure Israel's safety.

Lainer has an unfaltering and innate interest in the issue of safety since his parents, sister and grandparents live in Israel, his parents in the north. Despite a "mostly quiet" commute to work each day, his father has been forced to take detour roads more than once in order to avoid putting his life at risk.

"Generally speaking," said Lainer, staring out the conference room window, "I'm worried." But, he added, he does not fear for them.

Lainer came to the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco almost straight after a two-year posting in Nigeria, only stopping briefly in Israel to marry his girlfriend, Sharon Regev. The two met in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs while he was a cadet-in-training and she was working in the legal department.

Despite hating to pack, Lainer had left the journalism and public relations field in pursuit of travel. He saw the ministry as a prime opportunity because "I love my country and I was always attracted to politics.

"This was a great chance to work for Israel and go to places I'd never get to go otherwise, like Nigeria," he said.

"But the Jewish community is practically non-existent in Nigeria," he added. He "wanted something different" and, having always been fascinated by San Francisco's diversity, seized the opportunity to come here.

Since his arrival, Lainer has been bowled over by the Bay Area Jewish community's support for Israel.

"I suppose the circumstances could have been happier, but given those I'm pleased to see the hand extended to us — especially given the fact that the Jewish community plays a major role in bringing Israel's word and putting Israel on the agenda here."

Lainer expressed concern that the local media's coverage of the Middle East fighting may be a bit skewed, calling it difficult "to reflect that the Middle East is very different from the West Coast of the United States."

"Israel is a smaller area geographically — an area much smaller than California, for example, in which people have to live a normal life in spite of differences of opinion, culture and a history of hostility," he said. "If you add to that the religious aspect, you get a very complex equation."

He does, however, think the media is covering the situation intensively and extensively, while "trying to view a variety of opinions."

"Sometimes they succeed," he said, "sometimes they don't."

As the violence endures, Lainer will continue to promote the "pro-Israel path" as the corridor toward reaching peace.

"Anyone who wants peace and quiet in the Middle East should definitely support the only democracy there," he said. "Regardless of the party in power, Israel has always tried to bring an end to violence and war."

Unfortunately, he added, Israel "seems to have a problem finding a reliable partner for peace."