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What David Chiu Learned on His Trip to Israel

The President of the Board of Supervisors returns from his eight-day tour of the Middle East as cautious as ever.

As President of the Board of Supervisors, David Chiu has carved out a reputation as a cautious, compromise-minded politician. So he must have felt like a fish out of water during his eight-day tour of one of the world's most polarized regions—Israel and the Middle East. We caught up with Chiu to see what he learned.

Chiu was there as part of a delegation that included Suzy Loftus from the Center for Youth Wellness and San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley. During the trip, there were international headlines about a stabbing in the West Bank, rocket attacks in Gaza, and Israeli air strikes into Syria from the Golan Heights. “What the United States experienced in Boston," Chiu said, "Israel experiences on a daily basis.”

As debate over increased security measures here in San Francisco rippled through City Hall, with Chief of Police Greg Suhr backing off from reported plans to install public cameras along the length of Market Street, Chiu echoed comments made by fellow supervisors at a committee hearing last Thursday. "We need to take the best practices around security in a way that balances our civil liberties," said Chiu.

However, he did allow that incidences like the Boston bombings could force a re-evaluation of those trade-offs: "Communities in the Middle East understand that when everyone is subject to same security precautions that the community is safer for everybody. We haven’t reached that level in the United States, and the Bay Area—but we certainly can take lessons if we’re ever forced to consider that next level."

Chiu was quick to point out the positive aspects of the trip as well, including his exposure to Israel's regional economic growth. He pointed to the level of involvement of the Israeli government in the high tech sector. "The Israeli government started up the VC industry there. They are partners along with the private sector in helping startups succeed." He also pointed to economic development in Palestine as helping to pave the way for peace in the region. "We visited a new city called Rawabi in the West Bank where Palestinians are working to create economic growth, affordable housing, and jobs—the building blocks for a future Palestinian country. An improving economy can alleviate tensions."

The trip, convened more or less annually for three decades by the Jewish Community Relations Council (which describes itself as "the central public affairs arm of the organized Bay Area Jewish community"), helps to "understand nuances and complexities of pluralistic pulsating country that’s thousands of miles away, but whose issues often play out in Bay Area in much less nuanced ways," according to Abby Porth, the organization's Associate Executive Director. Chiu echoed the sentiments, saying, "Events in the Middle East often lead to tensions in San Francisco—flotilla resolutions, circumcision bans, MUNI bus ads, and divestment measures at Bay Area universities. There apparently will be a new round of bus ads that describe Israel as an apartheid state. But there was nothing like seeing on the ground these issues play out in the daily lives of residents. It drove home the importance of not bringing a simplistic lens to incredibly complicated issues."

And although he seemed willing to offer a clear-eyed assessment of the region and the take-home points, Chiu's usual circumspection re-asserted itself on the thorny issue of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. "I do think that thinking about a two-state solution is something that I’m very interested in," he said. When asked to specify what he meant, he said, "If that requires—well, I’m trying to think if I want to go into this." 


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