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Peres signs credentials for Ethiopian-Israeli envoy
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
25/07/2012
‘Decision to appoint Belaynesh Zevadia conveys an important message to society,’ says Liberman.
 
President Shimon Peres on Tuesday entered the private reception room in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel where Israel’s ambassador-designate to Ethiopia, Belyanesh Zevadia and her husband, Serkalem Adigeh, were waiting for a meeting Zevadia described as the closing of a circle.

Peres had been foreign minister when she was accepted as a cadet at the Foreign Ministry.

Later he went to her wedding, and now, before their meeting he signed the credentials that she will present to Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Giorgis.

“I left Ethiopia as a young girl,” she said, “and I am returning as an ambassador.”

More than that, she is Israel’s first Ethiopian-born ambassador to be appointed to any country.

When it was announced last February that Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman had appointed Zevadia as Israel’s next ambassador to Ethiopia, the news caused quite a stir in the local and African media.

Zevadia is the first Israeli of authentic African descent to be sent back to the country of her birth as the ambassador of her spiritual and now national homeland.

It is not that unusual for Israel to send its envoys back to the countries from which they came. Nearly every Israeli ambassador to Poland was actually born there. Yohanan Meroz, one of the founders of the Foreign Ministry and an Israeli ambassador to Germany, was born in Germany. Yehuda Avner, a former ambassador to the UK, was born in Britain and Michael Oren, Israel’s current ambassador to the US, is American- born.

Liberman, when he appointed her early this year, said that he was proud to be the first foreign minister to appoint an ambassador of Ethiopian birth.

“The decision to appoint Belaynesh Zevadia as ambassador, beyond the fact that she is a talented diplomat, conveys an important message to Israeli society, which is currently dealing with the issue of racism towards Ethiopians in Israel,” he said. “This appointment is particularly significant in that it sends a message about fighting against discrimination.”

Peres reminisced with Zevadia and her husband about his own visit to Ethiopia many years ago with former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Col. Nahman Karni, at which time they had met with Emperor Haile Selassi. Israel had been instrumental in helping Ethiopia to establish its Air Force, Peres said.

Zevadia, 43, came to Israel at age 17 within the framework of Youth Aliya and almost immediately demonstrated her people skills by offering her services to the Jewish Agency so that she could help other Ethiopian immigrants adapt to the country.

A graduate of the Hebrew University, with a BA in International Relations and African Studies and an MA in African Studies, she joined the Foreign Ministry in 1993 and has served in various diplomatic capacities in Chicago and Houston.

Zevadia’s husband will also serve in the embassy in Addis Ababa, working as a commercial attache. The couple has been busy in recent weeks talking to potential Israeli investors in Ethiopia, and explaining to them how much easier it will be for them to make headway when Amharic is the mother tongue of both the ambassador and the commercial attaché.

Aside from that, Zevadia intends to focus on three specific areas in which Israel can be of assistance to Ethiopia.

These include agriculture, water and education.

Peres concurred that these are important areas in helping the Ethiopian population to climb out of the poverty that is retarding its progress.

He told Zevadia that he was very proud of her, and that she was returning to her roots not only as an ambassador but as a wife, a mother, a university graduate and a person of goodwill who understands the traditions of both Ethiopia and Israel and who knows how to bridge them.

Zevadia and her husband will be taking their three children with them: an 11-year-old and two-year-old twins.

What she would like most in her role as ambassador, Zevadia told Peres, “is to be able to welcome my president to Ethiopia.”
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