Hello, I must be going

March 18, 2010 by Miriam Bell
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Israeli Ambassador to New Zealand, Yuval Rotem, has made his farewell trip to the country due to the pending reinstatement of a dedicated ambassador to the land of the Great White Cloud.

Yuval Rotem

Working to improve the diplomatic relationship between New Zealand and Israel was his most important task of the last two-and-a-half years, according to the retiring Israeli ambassador to New Zealand.

Yuval Rotem, who is based at Israel’s embassy in Australia, told a farewell meeting in Wellington on March 16 that repairing and enhancing the two countries’ damaged relationship was his most noteworthy Kiwi achievement.

Introducing Rotem, Wellington Regional Jewish Council chairman David Zwartz said that Rotem must be one of the only Israeli ambassador’s anywhere to have had his name daubed on a gravestone – as happened in Wellington ’s Karori cemetery in October 2007 on the ambassador’s accreditation visit to the country.

This occurred as a result of a hostile newspaper report about the ambassador, and was one of several recent low points in the New Zealand-Israel relationship. Other low points included the closure of the Israeli embassy in 2002 and the 2004 incident where two alleged Mossad agents attempted to illegally obtain and use New Zealand passports.

However, in his farewell speech Rotem said that, over the last few years, the relationship between Israel and New Zealand has improved significantly.

He listed the more Israel-friendly nature of the current National-led New Zealand government, the ongoing arrangements to re-open the Israeli embassy in Wellington and the New Zealand foreign minister’s recent successful visit to Israel as examples of this.

“These things, along with the signing of a reciprocal working visa agreement between the two countries, are clear signs that one can be optimistic about future communication and co-operation between New Zealand and Israel.”

At the meeting, which was attended by foreign minister Murray McCully and New Zealand governor-general Sir Anand Satyanand, Rotem spoke about the current situation facing Israel. After his speech, he answered a range of questions about the relationship between Israel and the USA, the Iranian threat to Israel, and Israel’s overseas aid.

Meanwhile, the farewell event also featured a representation from the soon-to-be-opened Israeli embassy. The new Israeli ambassador to New Zealand, Shemi Tzur, is expected to arrive in Wellington next month to present his credentials.

Preisent of the New Zealand Jewish Council, Stephen Goodman, added:  “Yuvel Rotem has been an excellent representative of the Government and people of Israel.  The various organisations within New Zealand have found him always helpful.  His forthright pragmatic approach has been very much appreciated.

The New Zealand Jewish community looks forward to the embassy re-opening on 11 April and formal presentation of credentials on 5 May.  While in no way being critical of Mr Rotem having to deal with the wide range of countries must have presented difficulties for the ambassador.  As well as representations from New Zealand, Yuval also suggested to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs, that a separate embassy was the best solution.  It will simplify consular activity, assist with delivering a more balanced approach to middle east reporting and help foster even closer relationship between our two countries.”

Rotem will continue to act as Israeli ambassador to Australia for at least another year, but a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Canberra told J-Wire that the ambassador will not return to New Zealand in an official capacity.

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