Ahead of Thursday's third annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, we present some highlights from the exclusive conference magazine available only to participants. The conference which will be held at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem on Thursday morning will be streamed live on JPost.com.
After spending 41 years in various diplomatic capacities for the State of Israel, dealing with presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and fellow ambassadors, Yitzhak Eldan has amassed a great deal of political and diplomatic knowledge.
He used that vast amount of experience to pinpoint a need for the diplomatic community stationed in Israel, and in 2010 founded the Ambassadors’ Club, an independent, non-profit organization that brings together foreign ambassadors, honorary consuls and Israelis who specialize in societal areas such as business, technology, academia and the arts.
His aim was to create a relationship between foreign ambassadors and Israeli society on business, social and cultural levels – and by all accounts, he’s succeeded in his undertaking.
“Why did I do it?” Eldan asked. “Why did I make this club? In order to bring them together. To help on one side the foreign ambassadors to create links to Israeli society at large, and from the Israeli side to create contacts with foreign ambassadors, business contacts, social contacts and cultural contacts, to create relations between the foreign diplomats in Israel and Israeli society.”
The Ambassadors’ Club offers not only a space for ambassadors to connect but also many events for them to attend. It organizes an ulpan in Tel Aviv so that foreign ambassadors can learn Hebrew. Last year it organized a trip, hosted by the Tourism Ministry, to UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Galilee, including the prehistoric caves at Nahal Hame’arot, Tel Megiddo, the Old City of Acre and the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa.
The club also regularly hosts a “Meet the Ambassador” dinner, where it invites some 25 people to have an intimate dinner and develop ties with one of the foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel. It also offers breakfast and luncheon meetings, invitations to public events, international conventions and exhibitions in Israel, as well as receptions with guest speakers from Israel and abroad.
Eldan says that he takes the time to create events like these to combat the impression that Israel is in a seemingly endless conflict with its neighbors and that the country is focused only on that conflict, adding that these events offer foreign ambassadors a way to experience the good that Israel has to offer.
Before founding the Ambassadors’ Club, Eldan served from 2003 to 2010 as the Foreign Ministry’s chief of protocol – the longest period of time anyone has held the position, and until then he held a number of diplomatic positions around the world.
He served as ambassador to UNESCO and the Council of Europe from 2001 to 2003; as ambassador to Denmark from 1999 to 2001; as deputy ambassador to France from 1990 to 1994, where he was chosen by the Foreign Ministry as the 1993 diplomat of the year; as consul in Montreal from 1983 to 1985; as consul in Los Angeles from 1985 to 1987; and as consul in Houston in 1974.
He served in different posts in Israel as well, “the most important of all being the director of the diplomatic school of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs between 1994 and 1999.”
Another project close to Eldan’s heart is that of the Young Israeli Ambassadors, which aims to develop young Israelis into international leaders.
The program is a two-year course that groups 20 students together from about 120 schools around Israel, and has about 2,300 participants, both boys and girls, and Jews and non-Jews alike.
During the course, students learn about cultural communication, how to speak in front of an audience and how to give an interview, as well as about values such as love of Israel, responsibility, solidarity and contributing to the community.
At the end of the course, the students are taken on a one-week trip abroad, during which they meet and develop relationships with Jews and non-Jews and “give Israel some good PR.” They also visit Israeli embassies and Jewish communities to strengthen their ties with Jews in the Diaspora.
During the trip, students participate in ceremonies to commemorate the Holocaust, because, as Eldan puts it, “Europe is the biggest graveyard of the Jewish people.”
The Young Israeli Ambassadors do quite a bit abroad, but the biggest goal of these trips, in Eldan’s eyes, is to give back to the communities they visit, and during the trips the students volunteer with a humanitarian organization of some kind.
“I tell them to become young leaders,” Eldan says, “future leaders of Israel, not necessarily in the diplomatic field. The word ambassador doesn’t necessarily mean you will become a diplomat one day. For me, the word ‘ambassador’ is large, and it speaks about youngsters who are ready to become ambassadors for Israel within the Israeli society and also to develop international relations.
“We are living in a global village, and Israel very much needs youngsters with a spark in their eyes who want to do things not only for themselves, but for their country,” he says.
When Eldan isn’t teaching the nation’s future leaders or bringing together diplomats and citizens from societies around the world, he takes time off to do a few things for himself.
In October, Eldan and a few of his colleagues from the Israeli Jewish Congress celebrated his 71st birthday at Kibbutz Sdot Yam, where Hanna Szenes lived before joining the Palmah.
During the Second World War, Szenes parachuted into Yugoslavia, behind enemy lines, but before she could complete her mission she was arrested and executed. To honor her, Eldan and his colleagues parachuted out over Sdot Yam.
“This was one of the greatest moments of my life,” Eldan said, “of all our lives, because for us it was a holy mission to parachute the day she was sentenced.”
Of all the great things Eldan has done, though, his most memorable moment was one that came before his career began, when he saw Golda Meir speak in the 1960s about relations with Africa. Meir was serving as foreign minister at the time, and she had initiated Israel’s policy of cooperation with the newly independent nations of Africa, with the belief that Israel had experience in building a nation that could be beneficial to the Africans who were just starting to build nations of their own.
This was what prompted Eldan to enter the Foreign Ministry and to become a diplomat. He saw that he could have a career giving back to the international community, and he decided it was what he wanted to do.
“If you really want to know who Yitzhak Eldan is,” he said, “he’s somebody who gives to national causes, to things which are beyond my personality, to contribute, to share with others, and this is what I tried to do all my career. I tried to share, to contribute, to be an emissary of Israel and the Jewish people in order to strengthen Israel’s status among the nations.”