Meet Mark Sofer

December 6, 2017 by Henry Benjamin
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Israel’s recently appointed ambassador to Australia Mark Sofer took time out of his busy schedule to speak to J-Wire…

Ambassador Mark Sofer
Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

JW:  You are London-born and educated. Why did you make aliyah and what inspired you to do so?

MS:  I was born in London and got my first degree at the London School of Economics but my family had a house in Jerusalem for many years, actually since I was a youngster, and it was part and parcel of a natural progression.

JW:   When did you enter into diplomacy?

MS: I was a cadet in the Foreign Office at the end of 1981. So I have been in the diplomatic service for 36 years…and it has been a good period for me.

JW:  You were previously ambassador to Ireland and India …did you serve in other countries?

MS:  When I was the ambassador to India I was also the ambassador to Sri Lanka at the same time. I have also been stationed in Norway, Peru and New York.

JW:   Both Ireland and India are countries with a strong background in innovation. What are the highlights of your career to date?

MS:  I was ambassador in Ireland during the Intifada. The men and women in the street in Ireland were divided and not always positive towards Israel. But on the other hand, I had a lot friends in Ireland as well. So there was a division. In India I would classify the relations with Israel as being excellent. I was the ambassador at the time of the Mumbai attack in 2008 and that was a very difficult time for India…but also for Israel and the Jews because of the attack on the Chabad House. It had an effect on me both personally and professionally. It was not easy to deal with such incidents. But overall, our relations and my stay in India were nothing less than eye-opening. The innovation aspect of our relations, technological, trade with Ireland and India were the integral part of the work we did there…and I think they will be here, too. Although Israel is self-sufficient in agriculture we are in fact a hi-tech economy. This is the field in which we work with our friends, Australia being in the forefront of those.

JW:   Will you be engaging with the diplomatic community in Canberra? One your predecessors enjoyed playing tennis with the foreign minister at that time?

MS:   Well, I’m not a great tennis player and I understand that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is very fit and very active sportswise…I think I would lose heavily in a tennis match. But there other ways of interacting with politicians and with the diplomatic service. There is a great deal of friendship between the political echelon in Australia…both with those who deal with foreign affairs and those who don’t. Support is bipartisan in every way. It spans both the Liberal and the Labor parties and outside of them. It doesn’t mean to say that there are difficulties. The overwhelming friendship of the parliamentarians in both the Senate and the Lower House means that we have a wide-ranging relationship with the top and the best people in Canberra.

JW: Australia has been developing a strong relationship with Israel over the years. Recently Elbit announced that they are sharing a $1.4 billion Australian defence contract.  Do you see substantive growth in the future not only in trade but also in cooperation in innovation development?

MS: You have hit the nail on the head. I think the future to a large extent has to be, must be and will be the interaction between commercial and business enterprises in Israel and Australia. We both operate on the same professional basis. There is a first desire on both sides, Israel and Australia, to enter a new phase to quantitatively upgrade the relationship in the field of technology and cybersecurity and others. Trade will advance only between the businesses themselves and not the governments. We can facilitate the trade but cannot manage the trade.  We can open all doors and will open all doors. 16 Israeli companies are already operating on the Australian stock exchange…with another 15 companies waiting in the wings.  Joint ventures, joint research and two-way investment you see happening on almost a daily basis.

JW: Do you see an important role for Israeli ambassadors to maintain a strong relationship with the local Jewish community?

MS:  I think this is crucial. It’s pretty well number one on my list. It’s an issue about deep and close friends. I think we have to be doubly sure that there is no daylight between us and the Jewish community. In Australia this will not be a difficult exercise. The community here is renowned around the world for being an amazing community.  I have already met the vast majority of the leadership of the community and many of the Jewish people in the street in Caulfield and St Kilda and elsewhere.  I was overwhelmed by the support for Israel, the support for the unity  for what we are trying to achieve and to move the relationship between Israel and Australia forward. It’s for me, the relationship with the Jewish community is number one on my list.

JW: First impressions are important. What are yours?

MS:  I am bowled over. It has been a rollercoaster ride since I have arrived. The incredible interaction I have had with the Jewish community of Australia and its leadership is wonderful. I actually chose to come to Australia. It was my decision.  In life sometimes one can make the best decisions possible. I am overjoyed to be here. I think with the deep friendship we have with so many in the community and with many outside of the community, I am raring to go. We are going to make this a success and I am chomping at the bit.

 

Comments

One Response to “Meet Mark Sofer”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    You’ve made such a good start, Mark Sofer, with your intelligently discussed, firm stance on Jerusalem as capital of Israel, when pushed and prodded by an ABC television interviewer on 6th December. With the almost apocalyptic frenzy world leaders and the media have displayed as response to President Trump’s announcement of US recognition, yours was a voice of reason and resolution. It’s also the kind of voice we need to combat what is becoming media war on Israel.

    Welcome to Australia.

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