L’hitrahot Shemi

April 5, 2013 by  
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Ambassador Shemi Tzur headed the diplomatic team which re-opened the embassy in Wellington ending a hiatus created by economic cuts made by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

From Miriam Bell and Henry Benjamin

A traditional welcome for Shemi Tsur

A traditional welcome for Shemi Tsur

Building closer ties, and a better relationship, between New Zealand and Israel was the main focus of the outgoing Israeli Ambassador’s time in New Zealand.

During his tenure, Ambassador Tzur had to deal with the aftermath of the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch which claimed 185 lives including those of three young Israelis tourists.

He told J-Wire: “It created special memories for me. Every time I visited the city following the earthquake, I laid flowers on the spot where the boys had been killed…and also on the spot on which the Chabad synagogue had been destroyed. The management has promised to send me photographs of the synagogue when the rebuilding has been completed.”

Ambassador Shemi Tzur said that, in 2010 when the Embassy of Israel reopened, it had to start its work from scratch – because the last Embassy had closed down many years before and the New Zealand-Israel relationship had suffered a few blows during those years.

“We had to get straight to work to forge and boost new relationships, especially because the image of Israel was not that good [in New Zealand] at that time,” he said.

“However,  New Zealanders have been fantastic. No door has been closed to me, to us. People have been friendly. They have wanted to listen and they have shared too… I have tried to engage with everyone, take all the opportunities which have come up, and talk to as many people as possible.”

And those efforts have paid off, Ambassador Tzur said.

“I’m pleased with our development of contacts in all areas – be they political, business or cultural. We have thousands of contacts, all over the country, now. Which is great because building up close relationships is all about people.”

He added that many people, including prominent figures in politics and business, were now much more aware of how a good relationship between New Zealand and Israel could benefit both countries.

“There is also now the possibility of a real dialogue there. And that is one of the changes that I have seen. In the past Israel was often simply criticised [for its actions] and had no real right of reply. Now, I think that – even if people don’t understand [Israel’s situation] – they do try to understand more and more.”

Ambassador Tzur said an example of this change could be seen in the attitude of the New Zealand media towards Israel.

“I think there is more balance[than there used to be]. The media has given me the chance to publish articles. And they do publish both sides in their responses [to my articles]. But there are no actual New Zealand correspondents in Israel or the Middle East and that impacts on what the media here can, and does, print.”

Another example of positive change could be found in the business sphere with the development of much stronger links between New Zealand and Israel, he continued.

“I think we really complement each other. Israeli companies are definitely looking for more engagement in areas like technology, particularly for agriculture – for example with irrigation and water purification technology.

“But there are opportunities on both sides. And the Embassy serves both sides. We open the doors, but then it is up to the companies themselves, and they know how beneficial it is to them, so…”

Ambassador Tzur said the business demand for the Embassy’s service had increased to such an extent that a special commercial desk, with a dedicated staff member, had now been established.

“I think that’s remarkable. It shows the potential there. I am very pleased with that measure of success.”

He said some other examples of the improved relationship between New Zealand and Israel could be seen in the two countries’ reciprocal working visa agreement – which New Zealand is the only country in the world to have; the increased numbers of Israelis coming to travel around New Zealand each year; and greater engagement with the community on the issue of Holocaust education.

The Embassy’s forays into, and projects for, the Pacific [specifically Samoa, Tonga, and the Cook Islands] – which included relief to Samoa post-cyclone and diabetes-related aid – had also been a success, Ambassador Tzur said.

“My visits to the Pacific were limited. But we tried to fill the gaps by reaching out to, by visiting Pacific people and leaders here in New Zealand… Everyone there is now aware of us, and these countries also have a sense of affiliation with Israel because it is the Holy Land… The small things we do help. We see it as part of our international obligation to assist people in need. That is part of our culture and policy, so we do it with pleasure.”

At the official end of his term, Ambassador Tzur will head back to Israel where he will be working in the policy area of the foreign ministry, with a focus on the Central Asia area.

He said the new ambassador would inherit a platform of friendly relationships – with huge potential to enlarge co-operation in the important fields of business, culture, tourism, investment, and the like.

“There is a very supportive Jewish community here in New Zealand. We have had unlimited support. It is a privileged community here. It has been fantastic to see people introduce themselves as Kiwis of the Jewish faith. And that external support for Israel is all good.”

Thanks in large part to his A-team at the Embassy,  his mission had been great and very satisfying, although challenging at times, Ambassador Tzur said.

“I found support and sympathy everywhere round New Zealand. And that means we have managed to put Israel on the map to improve relations between our two countries, to build closer ties for the benefit of both our nations.

“I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity, the experience. And I feel happy with what we have achieved. I am sad to leave and I will miss everyone.”

Ambassador Tzur is expected to move to Israel’s embassy in Turkmenistan this summer, according to Ma’ariv.
The Foreign Ministry in Ashgabat approved the appointment after disqualifying two candidates that Israel proposed during the past four years.

Israel has had diplomatic relations since 1992 with the Muslim former Soviet republic, which has a 1,000-kilometer/621-mile border with Iran.

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