I shall return

December 15, 2014 by Henry Benjamin
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The time has come for Deputy Chief of Mission Teddy Poplinger to leave the Israeli embassy in Wellington and return home to Israel…but he told J-Wire: “I will return”.

Teddy Popling [left] stands alongside ambassador Shemi Tzur as the bodies of three Israelis prepared for expatriation to Israel.

Teddy Poplinger [left] stands alongside ambassador Shemi Tzur as the bodies of three Israelis prepared for expatriation to Israel.

Teddy Poplinger arrived in Wellington in 2010 following Israel’s decision to reopen an embassy it shut down because of budgetary cats.

The diplomat, who is also the Consul,  extended his stay in New Zealand to allow his 17-yr-old daughter Maya to finish her schooling. He told J-Wire: “My son Tomer is currently serving his military service in Israel and my daughter will enter the IDF in just under a year.

J-Wire asked Poplinger if relations between Israel and New Zealand had improved following the low point they reached after the 2004 passports affair.

He responded: “I think things have changed. I was not here in 2004 and I heard things were awful. It was particularly tough on the Jewish community as there was no embassy here and the passport affair was handled by Canberra. But there has been a noticeable change at the higher levels with the Prime Minister and ministers for example. There is a different attitude towards Israel. However I feel the Foreign Ministry still is a little suspicious that we still engage older regime systems.”

Poplinger said that the NZ government expresses suspicion that the three Israelis killed in the Christchurch earthquake may have been spies. It just seems that whenever there is a chance they will remind us of the events of 2004.”

J-Wire turned its attention to the Christchurch earthquake. Poplinger said: “Before coming to New Zealand I had been posted to Kathmandu where I was briefed in great detail in the consulate section in how to deal with touring Israelis in distress. The told me in Kathmandu there will be a lot of cases where you will have to evacuate people from accidents in the mountains and cases where  would have to organise the repatriation of bodies. I was lucky.Nothing happened in the year I was posted there. So when I came to New Zealand I thought I was coming to a quiet place.”

But Poplinger was to learn that New Zealand was not going to be so quiet for him.

Teddy Poplinger

Teddy Poplinger

He told J-Wire: “After only one month I had to repatriate the body of an Israeli killed in a ski resort accident. Five months later Christchurch was hit by the earthquake. I travelled to the South Island and it took ten days to find the bodies of the three Israelis who lost their lives in the quake…and then I had to repatriate their bodies.”

Poplinger said that his Christchurch experience was “unique”. He added: “One day I may write a book about the Christchurch earthquake.”

He told J-Wire that to get to Christchurch he had to fly to Dunedin and drive the 361 kms to Christchurch. The earthquake claimed 185 lives three of them Israelis. Teddy Poplinger told J-Wire: “When I finally arrived I expected it to be a hive of activity but it was spookily quiet. No-one could have been prepared for it. Israel sent eight police and a DVI disaster identification team.

He said that rebuilding the embassy had been a satisfying challenge adding that he found living in New Zealand to have been to have been very enjoyable. He said: “We travelled all over New Zealand and the people are amazing and so is the quality of life.

When asked how the people of New Zealand related to Israel Poplinger replied: “New Zealanders in general don’t know much about Israel.

Teddy Poplinger said there was a small number of New Zealanders, mainly devout Christians who were very supportive of Israel.

He added: “There is also a very small group, but very loud, who are opposed to Israel. My job was to show New Zealanders that there is a different Israel to what the portray.”

Once problem facing Israel’s goodwill with New Zealand is the emergence of teams of young Israelis selling Dead Sea cosmetic products snd paintings to the New Zealand public.

Poplinger knows what it feels like. “I was sitting in my home in suburban Wellington when the Israelis knocked on my door and tries to sell me a painting!  I told them I was Israeli, I told them I was the cons and I told them that I would be the one who would have to organise their release from prison if the continued  to trade illegally.””.

He said that the embassy “was not encouraging: these selling tactics and admitted “they are causing us a lot of problems”.

When Poplinger returns to Israel he will return to the finance department at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

He told J-Wire: “My dream is to return in 15-20 years time with my wife Iris to Wellington…this time in the role of ambassador!.

The Poplinger family will spend two weeks touring Australia before he returns home.


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