For career diplomats rising in the ranks, their first ambassadorial appointment is probably the most memorable, especially if the posting is to a most desired and prestigious destination.
Among the first-time ambassadors sent to Israel over the past few years is Caspar Veldkamp, 50, Ambassador of the Netherlands, who quickly earned a reputation not only in diplomatic circles, but in sporting circles, as well.
Veldcamp often can be seen riding his bicycle around Herzliya Pituah and Kfar Shmaryahu, and he ran the Tel Aviv Marathon with his daughter Charlotte, who was then 17. Next, he plans to run the Jerusalem Marathon in addition to the Tel Aviv contest. He’s participated in Tel Aviv bicycle races, bringing along a large contingent from his embassy all dressed in bright orange t-shirts – the national color of his country’s royal family.
He has practiced skydiving, hang gliding, paragliding, kayaking and other water sports, but his great passion is aviation.
Veldcamp’s wife, Anne, a French national he met in the United States when they were both students, is a lawyer who has held high-ranking positions in the Brussels European Commission and the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavians in The Hague. In Israel, she works full time as a librarian at the American International School in Even Yehuda. Twice a week, she cycles to work from her Herzliya Pituah home.
Before entering his country’s Foreign Service, Veldkamp was a lieutenant in the Royal Netherlands Navy. Asked why he chose the navy rather than air force if he’s so keen on aviation, Veldkamp replies: “The air force is nice when you’re a pilot, but not so nice when you’re not.”
In fact, it was his ardor for aviation that fueled his interest in politics and diplomacy.
An avid reader of aviation publications, he asked himself why the Mirage fighter jet that was so crucial to Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War was manufactured in the United States, and why the Egyptians switched from Soviet-manufactured planes to those produced in the West. He concluded that it must have had something to do with foreign policy and bilateral agreements – this sparked interests that led to his career choice.
One thing he wants to do before finishing his term next summer is fly from the Bar Yehuda Airfield at the Dead Sea, because “it’s the only place in the world where you can fly below sea level.”
In addition to Charlotte, now 18 who is in school in the Netherlands, the Veldkamps are parents to Thomas, 19, who is studying in France, and Simon, 15, and Philip, 13, who live with them in Israel.
“Around the dinner table we speak a lot about cars and football,” he says during a luncheon interview at a highly rated Jerusalem restaurant.
He has been up since before dawn to speak at an international oil and gas conference at the Dead Sea before coming to the capital. Although he could have gone the previous night and stayed over, he says, he preferred to remain with his family.
The conference centered largely on recent offshore discoveries, production and further potential for natural gas and the onshore potential of-oil shale reserves in Israel.
Participants, however, also were interested in other countries, and Veldkamp spoke about oil, gas and geothermal energy exploration and production in the Netherlands and the Dutch sector of the North Sea.
It’s not unusual for Veldkamp to speak at conferences with some sort of economic focus as he does a lot of economic diplomacy, mostly in the realm of innovation and investment.
He concedes that there isn’t a lot of noise about bilateral trade and investment between the two countries, but the Netherlands is, in fact, Israel’s fifth-largest trading partner.
There is more trade between the two than between Israel and France, he boasts.
Israel’s imports from the Netherlands in 2013 were $2.75 billion, excluding diamonds, while exports to the Netherlands were $2.1 billion excluding diamonds. Israeli companies invest heavily in the Netherlands, especially in transport, fuel and footwear.
As for Dutch investments in Israel, Veldkamp cites the oldest and best known – Philips, the global diversified technology company that has been active in Israel since 1948, with local headquarters in Haifa.
Philips, he notes provides some 600 jobs in Israel.
Economics aside, he has close contacts with the local Dutch community, many of whose members are Holocaust survivors, he says using the Hebrew word “Shoah” for Holocaust. Two people in the embassy are permanently employed to work on allowances for Holocaust survivors.
Veldkamp maintains close personal relations with Yad Vashem and the Ghetto Fighters House, and frequently visits the two Dutch-retirement homes in Israel where the majority of residents are Holocaust survivors. There are some 14,000 Dutch nationals living in Israel, he says, most of whom still have family and friends in the Netherlands – a bridge-building factor Veldkamp regards as no less important than government-to-government relations.
In addition, he notes, there are some 10,000 Israelis living in the Netherlands who maintain contact with family and friends here. That number, he claims, is greater than the combined Israeli population of France, Italy and Belgium.
Veldkamp and his family adjusted easily to local life because they found the same informality that exists in Holland.
Although there is a certain formality where the royal family is concerned, they are very approachable, he says.
Last year, he accompanied Shimon Peres, while still president, to Holland when Peres was the first official foreign guest of King Willem-Alexander shortly after his coronation.
The former president will be back in Holland December 14 for a fund-raising event by the Collective Israel Action Organization, which raises money for various Israeli social-welfare projects. Veldkamp will not escort him this time, but will have another opportunity to meet the king in January when he attends the annual Dutch ambassadors’ conference.
Veldkamp says the king represents the new generation not only in age but also in ideas and approach. “I’d rather be an ambassador than a king.
His work load is heavier and his responsibilities much more important.”
Asked about his country’s attitude toward unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, Veldkamp says he does not see a political majority in parliament supporting such a move, “but I can imagine that at some point there will be recognition by the Netherlands of Palestinian statehood if this is strategically effective in the diplomatic context of the peace process.
It has to be effective and real.
We continue to believe firmly in the resumption of the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Our interview takes place just two days after the terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue and the slaughter of four rabbis and a policeman. “This was heinous unspeakable violence,” he says, noting that Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders immediately condemned the attack and called on all parties to deescalate the situation. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also called for an end to violence and incitement, and was quick to offer condolences to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the ambassador says.
Although the Israeli media has not paid much attention to the role of the Netherlands in imposing sanctions against Iran, Veldkamp says, “We were instrumental in imposing the latest round of tough EU sanctions.”
He also insists that the Netherlands is committed to Israel’s security, noting that Dutch soldiers are stationed with UNTSO, UNDOF and MFO contingents. Moreover, he says, “Dutch F-16 fighter jets are attacking targets in the framework of the coalition of the willing against ISIS.”
Veldkamp has traveled widely in Israel. One of his favorite spots is the Ramon Crater, and he is particularly enchanted by the area at sunset. “The desert is something we don’t have in the Netherlands.” At the same time, he loves the vibrant, multicultural atmosphere of Tel Aviv.
Though he and his family consider Israel to be an exciting place, Veldkamp won’t seek an extension when his term is up, because he doesn’t want to disrupt his children’s schooling.
“But if I was given another posting here,” he says, “at home they would be very happy.”
The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference will take place on December 11 at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, including speeches by President Reuven Rivlin, former president Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.