Israel’s man in New Zealand
Meet Yosef Livne, the new Israeli ambassador to New Zealand.
The 64-yr-old career diplomat’s family has deep roots in Israel with one of his grandfathers being a founding member of the Rosh Pina community and the other helping to establish Ramat Gan.
The young Livne began his diplomatic career in 1979 as a member of the Israeli delegation to United Nations before moving the following year to Mexico where he worked as second secretary in the embassy, followed by a three year hiatus working at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem.
Yosef Livne’s fluency in Portuguese and Spanish was to serve him in good stead when he was posted to the embassy in Chile in 1985 and then Brazil in 1987 before returning to Jerusalem for another stint at the MFA in 1990.
He was appointed ambassador to El Salvador and Belize where he served between 1993 and 1997 followed by another two years in Jerusalem before being appointed to the prestigious position of Deputy Consul-General in New York.
In 2001, Yosef Livne returned to his position in El Salvador returning to Jerusalem in 2004. In 2006, he was appointed ambassador to Mexico and the Bahamas, a position he held until 2010 when he returned to Jerusalem.
J-Wire spoke to Ambassador Livne who, in the style of many Israeli diplomats, was quick to point out that “when I talk to people I like them to call me Yossi, which is much more informal.”
The ambassador said he had never been east of Israel and this was his first visit to this part of the world. “I can’t go much further east and south now.”
J-Wire asked the ambassador if had ever had to deal with the likes of the two notable events involving diplomatic intervention which had occurred in New Zealand in recent history…the passports affair involving Mossad agents and the Canterbury earthquake which took the lives of three young Israeli backpackers. He said: “No, I have never experienced anything similar in my previous postings. It doesn’t follow, however, that they were all smooth sailing. I have had to deal with some unpleasant encounters notably in Brazil. A little Brazilian girl was adopted in Paraguay by an Israeli couple. A few years later, her natural mother claimed that her daughter had been kidnapped and then adopted. The mother went to the Supreme Court in Israel. I was not ambassador at the time but because the ambassador was recuperating from a heart attack, I found myself having to deal with this under pressure from above as the affair could have impacted on the relationship between Israel and Brazil. It was very unpleasant.”
He said that each country has its own stories and that “every Israeli diplomat had to go through some experience in which issues have to be faced which are not always comfortable.”
New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully has gone on public record as being willing to play whatever part he can in helping facilitate the peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. J-Wire asked Ambassador Livne if he had met Minister McCully. “I had a very warm meeting with him a few days after I presented my credentials. He told me about his visit to Israel from which I had already departed. He said he was certain that things re the Palestinians would move forward which they did…we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
He has not yet had a meeting with Prime Minister John Key.
In his previous postings, Yossi Livne had been involved in bettering life for the indigenous disadvantaged. In Mexico for example, over 400 blind people had their eyesight restored thanks to the involvement of Israeli ophthalmic surgeons and the police force in El Salvador was trained for a month by their Israeli counterparts.
The Israeli Embassy in Wellington has projects in place which improve life for many within its area including Tongans and Samoans where an ongoing project to help diabetics is in place. Ambassador Livne said: “I will continue the work of my predecessor. I am looking forward to my first visit to the islands. For the moment, only a month or so into the job, I am developing my relationships with those who are relevant and important but once I reach the islands I will look for further ways we can work together with them in giving them what they need relating to what we can offer.”
In his private life, Yossi Livne likes to watch soccer. “I like to walk and going to the gym. I really like to keep in shape. I love reading and music. My taste is very varied ranging from Latin American to opera…with many things in between. I will not be bored in Wellington. I’m an old-fashioned fellow. No Kindle for me. I joined the local library as I love to feel a book in my hands.”
“I have two boys…Alon is 12 and Dan 14. They started school a week after we landed. They made friends on their very first day…and that’s important to me and it’s something less to worry about.” Yossi Livne’s wife Norma is originally from El Salvador and is a PR for an NGO in Israel working in education. “She is using the Internet to continue her work in Israel…the main challenge is to overcome the time difference. It’s wonderful that she can do this because diplomats often pay a big price for uprooting their families and more often than not it results in the collapse of a spouse’s career. Not in her case. We are very lucky…she can continue working for the people she knows in Israel. It take some flexibility, but she is managing.”
Ambassador Livne and his family are looking forward to seeing New Zealand. He added: “New Zealand is known for its beauty and we expect to travel and to get to know the beautiful gems this country has to offer. The country has become very popular in Israel and my brother and many of my friends are already making plans to visit.”
New Zealand is a very popular destination for Israeli backpackers. The Ambassador added: “Ever since I have been here, almost everyone I know in Israel knows someone who has been here or is planning a visit.
Many Christian homes in New Zealand host Israeli backpackers. “I am going to make it my business to meet some of these people,” he told J-Wire. These people need recognition and I am planning on making it my business to do that.”
Ambassador Livne has met most of Wellington’s diplomatically community. He said: “They are all very warm and I have been made very welcome. My Latin American colleagues have adopted me as one of their own…no doubt because of my vast experience of the area. We are looking forward to close relationships with both the diplomatic community and New Zealanders and the plan is not only to work but also to enjoy ourselves in this beautiful country.”