FAREWELL TO A GENUINE FRIEND
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5 June, 2017 by Michael Kuttner
First published in jWire
After four action packed years, Australia's Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, is preparing to return home.
Amidst his busy schedule of duties he spoke with J-Wire's Israel correspondent, Michael Kuttner, about his thoughts and experiences in a country never far from the world's headlines.
It would be fair to state that Dave Sharma has been more than a diplomat. He has also demonstrated a genuine desire to learn and understand the complexities of life in Israel. His laid back Aussie style and social skills have enabled him to experience reality and in doing so he was able to combine diplomacy with mateship.
Reflecting on his time here, Dave commented on a variety of topics posed to him by J-Wire.
JW: What surprised you most in Israel?
DS: The fact that it was a normal country where citizens were pre-occupied with the problems of daily life such as making a living and bringing up a family. Naturally security features prominently also but unlike generally held perceptions it does not dominate every minute of every day. The other surprise was the uniqueness of the country so steeped in history. Not having had a relationship with the Jewish community before this posting I read some books which gave me a rough idea. However nothing can surpass actually being here.
JW: What preconceptions were demolished?
DS: The reputation of the “tough” Israelis. I had been led to believe that their “in the face” take it or leave it attitudes would be a big challenge. However I was in for a surprise. Although their mannerisms can be intimidating, coming from Australia I found them on the whole to be very similar to the way we confront situations. Yes – Israelis are direct but at least you know where you are and it is great.
JW: Any outstanding highlights?
DS: Without a doubt the most outstanding event was the very successful visit of Israel's Prime Minister to Australia, something I had been working on ever since I arrived. It was an amazing success and has led to accelerated trade, commercial ventures and of course tourism. In this regard travel between both countries is becoming better and I anticipate a code sharing agreement being signed shortly between EL AL and Qantas. Next year we could possibly also be looking at direct flights.
JW: Here we are sitting in the King David Hotel in Israel's unrecognized Capital. What are your thoughts on this situation?
DS: It is rather anomalous I must admit. It certainly would make life easier if I didn’t have to travel from Tel Aviv every time I needed to visit the Knesset or Government Ministries. Once the Palestinian State is established and a solution found to Jerusalem (2 Capitals or shared Capital) the problem will vanish.
JW: Yes, but do we want to go back to the pre 1967 situation where by now we would be targeted by snipers from the walls of the Old City?
DS: True. Well, I must admit that illustrates exactly how complex the problem is and how simplistic solutions are likely to fail.
JW: How difficult has it been for you when you are faced with international bias?
DS: The continuing obsession about Israel displayed by international bodies discredits those organizations. Their disproportionate focus and unbalanced resolutions condemning Israel while real threats to peace and human rights are ignored is something Australia has spoken out about. We have voted against such resolutions and will continue to do so. I know this is appreciated by Israeli officials.
JW: This honest friendship must have made your job easier.
DS: It has. However there is a danger that this friendship can be taken for granted. I have worked very hard to make sure that Israeli decision makers understand that friendship must be continually worked at and nurtured. One thing which has made my job easier and enjoyable is the terrific contribution being made by Australians now living in Israel. They have in the past and continue today to play a most constructive and crucial role in fostering close relationships as well as contributing to Israel’s development in many fields.
JW: One hundred years ago Australian troops were instrumental in helping to liberate Beersheba and then Jerusalem.
DS: Yes this is an historic anniversary. It symbolizes the strong bond that Australians have had with the country and its eventual march to independence. The Israeli authorities are taking this very seriously and numerous exciting commemorations are planned. Although I am leaving Israel in mid June I plan to return for the ANZAC centenary events. It's not something I would want to miss.
JW: Life is going to be quieter back in Australia.
DS: There is no doubt that Israel is a dynamic country where there is never a dull moment. Life is experienced to the fullest so the more sedate pace of life back home will take some adjusting to. My wife and three daughters have loved every moment here. We all have.
JW: What are your future plans?
DS: First of all a Sabbatical and well earned break. Then we will see where the diplomatic field leads. It will be hard to beat being posted to Israel which I can only describe as a dream job.
JW: Finally, will you spread the word about Israel?
DS: Definitely. Israel and Australia are both strong democracies where the rule of law prevails. Too many people in Australia lack sufficient background knowledge about the long historical connection between the Jewish People and Israel. If I can contribute to rectifying that I will be more than willing to do so.
There is no doubt that Dave Sharma has been the most successful and popular Ambassador that Australia (or any country) has ever had. He will be a very hard act to follow.
L'hitraot — farewell and all best wishes, mate!
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel where he is J-Wire's correspondent.