Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll visits Capernaum, at the Sea of Galilee.

Salem mayor marvels at Israel’s innovations, political consensus building

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Salem mayor marvels at Israel’s innovations, political consensus building

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll visits Capernaum, at the Sea of Galilee.
Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll visits Capernaum, at the Sea of Galilee.

SALEM – When Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll was invited to participate in the American Israel Education Foundation’s educational seminar to Israel for members of Congress and other politically influential people, she jumped at the chance. She had never been to Israel, and the program and list of participants was the perfect fit for her first trip there.

The February itinerary included briefings at the Gaza Strip and Lebanese and Syrian borders, and visits to the Granot Brackish Water Desalination Plant and the Knesset as well as to top tourist sites in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.

“I really felt like I was on a journey to better understand history and also how people interact in a time when there is trauma, stress, and threats all around them,” Driscoll said. “There is a real perseverance in Israel that you can see every day.

“We had immense opportunities to speak with everyone we met. We were told, ‘There is nothing you can’t ask. There is nothing out of bounds.’ That was very worthwhile,” she said.

The Salem mayor was on the lookout for ideas she could bring back to her city, and she found more than she expected. “I was struck by the drive for ingenuity and innovation in Israel,” she said.

In particular, she marveled at Israel’s ability to recycle 80 percent of its water. “It’s amazing what you can do when you have to,” Driscoll said. “Water scarcity is a big issue in the Middle East. They don’t have a choice.”

She also saw ways Salem could adapt how Israeli law enforcement communicates with residents. In Jerusalem, for example, a system of colored lights signals the level of concern about potential attacks from Israel’s enemies. Although Salem doesn’t fear that kind of attack, Driscoll came away with ideas about how to expand her city’s system that flashes a blue light when there is a snow parking ban.

“I’m talking more about if trash is delayed a day, or if there is other information we want to get out,” she said. “Right now we rely on phone calls or websites. Their simple lighting system communicated a universal message to a city where people were from many different backgrounds and spoke many different languages. It was very clear to everyone what was going on.”

According to 2015 Census Bureau information, nearly a quarter of Salem’s approximately 42,000 residents speak a first language other than English.

What most impressed her, however, were two qualities she circled back to again and again: political consensus building and the perseverance of people at perpetual risk.

“Israel has 26 different parties. It is very much a parliamentary form of government with lots of coalition building. Yet they can adopt a uniform policy that covers the whole country and it can have meaningful impact,” she said.

At the Knesset, she witnessed various party members expressing lots of opinions. “Yet I was struck by their ability to move something forward,” she said, in reference to Israel’s universal health insurance and national water conservation policies.

She contrasted that to the situation in the U.S. where “we get almost nothing done” with layers of city, county, state, and federal government.

On a more personal note, Driscoll described her visit to a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip, where she met families who live under the constant threat of rocket attacks, yet would never consider living anywhere else.

“Seeing the bomb shelters, seeing the Egyptian border, and hearing firsthand from individuals who lived there was very moving for me,” she said. “The situation was normalized for them. It was normalized for their kids. If you heard the alarm, you had 19 seconds to get into a bomb shelter.”

AIEF is the charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby, and was created in 1990. For more information, visit aiefdn.org.

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