Fresh from the land down under, new Aussie ambassador is youngest yet

By
July 28, 2013 04:01

"People should see it as a vote of confidence – young ambassadors who have a future will remain friends of Israel," Dave Sharma, 37, tells Post.




Dave Sharma.

Dave Sharma Australian Ambassador to Isarel 370. (photo credit:Courtesy Australian Embassy)

The past three months have been a whirlwind period for Australia’s ambassador- designate to Israel Dave Sharma, who at 37, is the youngest ambassador on Australia’s diplomatic circuit.

His appointment was announced in May. He and his wife, Rachel, and their three daughters aged six, four and three months, arrived in Israel in June.

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He was supposed to have presented his credentials in July, but due to Foreign Ministry labor sanctions, the date was postponed until August 8 – and that is not entirely certain.

The delay doesn’t really bother him and it hasn’t hampered him in doing his job, he told The Jerusalem Post over coffee in a restaurant near the Prime Minister’s Residence last week.

Although he is a career diplomat who has served in other postings abroad, most recently in Washington, this is his first ambassadorial post. Sharma is the third-consecutive envoy from Australia, following James Larsen and Andrea Faulkner, who will be an ambassador for the first time in Israel.

Sharma said this is indicative of the importance that Canberra attaches to its relations with Israel. “People should see it as a vote of confidence. It says something if you’re sending relatively young ambassadors who have a future ahead of them and will remain friends of Israel for years to come,” he said.

“You never want a lame duck as an ambassador,” he said. “It means that the sending country doesn’t make your country a priority.”

Sharma’s residence is in Herzliya Pituah. His office is in south Tel Aviv – quite some distance from other embassies, most of which are either in north Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan.

Sharma barely had time to unpack his suitcases after his arrival, when he was told that he must attend the Presidential Facing Tomorrow conference in Jerusalem.

Not long afterward, Sharma hosted a dinner for a delegation from Woodside Petroleum.

Woodside is Australia’s largest independent oil and gas company, and one of the world’s leading operators, producing an average of 900,000 barrels of oil a day.

Woodside’s 30 percent stake in the Leviathan gas field west of Haifa has hit rocky ground, but if things sort themselves out and Woodside puts its flag on the site, Sharma is more than optimistic that other Australian energy companies will invest in Israel. The government recently cut the share of the gas due to be exported, likely reducing the liquefied natural gas exports Woodside will operate.

Sharma came into early contact with people from the Israel office of the Zionist Federation of Australia when he attended the launch in Ra’anana of a partnership between Telfed, the representative organ of the Zionist Federation of South Africa, and the ZFA, which have joined forces in providing services to aid new immigrants from South Africa and Australia.

He also hosted a reception for an Australian Trade Mission on Science Innovation and Technology headed by Peter Ryan who is the deputy premier and minister for state development in the State of Victoria.

Keen on archeology and ancient history, Sharma was delighted to take a look at the archeological digs in Gath where two Australian teams from Macquarie and Melbourne Universities are among the excavators.

In Jerusalem, he did the tour of the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus, where many facilities have been donated by Australian Friends of the Hebrew University.

Sharma hosted a reception for members of the Australian delegation to the Maccabiah Games. Like other Australian ambassadors before him, he participated in a memorial service for the four Australians killed in the bridge disaster in the 1997 Maccabiah Games.

He attended the opening of the current 19th Maccabiah Games.

Sharma is an all-round sportsman – a runner, swimmer, tennis player, golfer, cycler and soccer player.

When asked if he plays Australian Rules football, he reminded his interviewer that he’s from Sydney, not Melbourne, and that his games are rugby and soccer.

Among the essential tasks that he has set himself during his tour of duty is to broaden Israel’s profile in Australia, because most Australians get their impressions of Israel from the media, and the general public perception of Israel is that of a country in conflict and turmoil, always on the brink of war.

Sharma wants to make Australians aware of antiquities, tourist attractions and the impact of Israel’s scientific and technological research on commerce and medicine.

He is less concerned about giving Israelis a more rounded picture of Australia, because quite a few Israelis spend up to a year in Australia after their army service.

Given that it is the 11thlargest donor toward humanitarian needs in the Palestinian Authority, Australia would like to be more involved in the peace process, said Sharma.

As far as bilateral relations with Israel are concerned, he wants to encourage greater sharing of know-how in that the Australians have much experience with regulation, taxation, management and environmental issues related to gas and oil exploration that it could share with Israel, while Israel is much stronger than Australia in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Another thing he hopes to do is to revive Australia Day (January 26) get-togethers.

He has never understood why Australia Day is not an open house celebration by Australian embassies abroad.

Sharma cannot fathom why ANZAC Day is commemorated in Israel each year, yet there is no Australia Day celebration.

But first he has to focus on Australia’s upcoming federal elections on Saturday, September 14. Voting is compulsory in Australia, and religiously observant Jews or people who may be out of the country on Election Day have the option of casting postal votes.

Early in-person voting will be conducted at the Australian Embassy starting on September 2. Postal voting applications are available at the embassy. There are approximately 10,000 to 11,000 Australian citizens in Israel, but Sharma does not know how many have voting rights. Australians living abroad must have an address in Australia and pay taxes in Australia if they want to apply to be enrolled on electoral voting lists.

When an ambassador is appointed, it occasionally gets a media mention in the country of origin and in the prospective host country. In Sharma’s case, it was also reported with fanfare in the Indian press because his father is Indian, and because Sharma is only the second Australian of Indian background to be appointed an ambassador.

Reports at home and abroad also emphasized his age.

When asked why all this is such a big deal, he explained that while Australia is a successful migrant country, immigrants tend to succeed in the private sector but it takes much longer for them to succeed in politics and the diplomatic service, which are still dominated by people of Anglo background.

His mother is third or fourth generation Australian with a mix of Scots, Prussian and Irish blood.

The most frequent question that Sharma has been asked since arriving in Israel is whether his wife, Rachel, is Jewish. The answer is no. She merely has a biblical name.

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