In his career, Israeli diplomat Shlomi Kofman has been posted to such far-flung locales as China and Thailand. But to best prepare him for serving as Israel’s consul general in San Francisco, Kofman did a tour of duty in the most challenging post of all: New York City.
“It was very intense,” he said of his tenure from 2010 to 2014 as Israel’s deputy consul general in the Big Apple. “Like everywhere, to be an Israeli diplomat is a huge opportunity but also a huge challenge, one we enjoy.”
Next month, Kofman will become the top dog in Israel’s Consulate General office in San Francisco, which serves the Pacific Northwest. He will take over for Andy David, whose five-year term will end at that time.
In preparation for his new position, Kofman has been picking the brains of his predecessor to find out as much as he can about the Bay Area.
“A good friend of mine told me this is the best job you can get,” Kofman said. “Both previous consuls general have said only good things about the work here, how much excitement and interest, how much challenge. It’s endless. I’m sure it will be exciting and the best time I ever had.”
Kofman sees his new job as twofold: strengthening the pro-Israel community and persuading individuals, companies and other entities to learn more about Israel.
“We’re here to emphasize Israel’s contribution, Israel’s central place, and to bring the people of Israel and California closer together, to understand why Israel is such a value,” he said. “We have to continue to build understanding and ties, so people will overcome ideas which are not always based on reality.”
Kofman, 47, comes into the job with an existing advantage. Israel already enjoys a very strong economic relationship with the United States, its No. 1 trading partner, with more than 1,000 joint research and development projects launched in recent years.
That picture is even rosier in California. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Silicon Valley in 2014 to sign a memorandum of understanding between California and Israel, a pact that has borne fruit. Kofman intends to keep watch over it.
“The number of projects signed in California are more than any other state,” Kofman noted. “You have 200 American companies with [research and development] centers in Israel. The R&D centers show the importance and centrality of Israeli technology.”
Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, Kofman and his family made aliyah to Israel when he was 9, part of the wave of refuseniks who made the exodus from the former Soviet Union.
We’re here to emphasize Israel’s contribution, Israel’s central place, and to bring the people of Israel and California closer together, to understand why Israel is such a value.
He earned a degree in international relations from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with his first posting coming in 1998 in Shanghai. After four years there (during which he learned Mandarin and earned an MBA), he transferred to Thailand, serving as deputy ambassador at the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok.
After stints as the chief of staff in the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., and as a diplomat adviser to the Knesset, he was made deputy consul general of Israel at the all-important New York consulate.
“It’s the mission,” he said of his track record. “The importance is to do more for the country, for the people, especially in the last 10 years going back and forth in the USA. I do what I can to contribute to and support the most important relationship that we have. It’s crucial for Israel and for the Jewish people.”
Kofman, his wife and two young children, plan to move to the Bay Area later this month. The kids, ages 6 and 10, will attend the Brandeis School of San Francisco.
Partnering with the Bay Area Jewish community is a natural move for any Israeli consul general, and Kofman looks forward to making friends here.
“The conversation with the community is crucially important to keep the ties strong,” he said. “To present Israel to them, to have them come to Israel, especially the young generation, and to reach out to other communities in this area, is the framework of [Israel’s] conversation with the American people.”
As for the challenges, he knows that the Bay Area, especially Bay Area universities, have been centers of activism for those supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. Therefore, it’s no surprise that BDS is already on his mind.
“It has nothing to do with reality,” he says of the BDS movement. “The attempt to demonize Israel, to portray it as dark, is baseless and groundless. We have ways to show it’s not right.”
As his country’s top diplomat in an area that includes Northern California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, Kofman would prefer to stay on offense, telling a positive story about Israel.
“I want to bring Israel’s story, its humanity and its values,” he said. “This is what people dream about: a tiny country with huge successes.”