While women in Israel represent more than 50 percent of the population, this is not reflected in the upper echelons of Foreign Service where female ambassadors are still few and far between, although there seems to be a slight improvement. Of 12 senior diplomatic appointments that were announced in September, seven were women who have joined or are soon to join a handful of existing female Israeli ambassadors around the world.
Of some 120 heads of foreign diplomatic missions in Israel, only seven are headed by women. They represent Canada, China, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, Romania and Slovenia.
Interestingly, Israel’s new appointees to China and Romania are also women.
Romanian Ambassador Andreea Pastarnac, 47, might never have entered the Foreign Service but for the fact that she chose to study Hebrew.
Though raised in a Communist country, Pastarnac does not have a herd mentality and didn’t follow the pack when it came to deciding on a course of study when she went to university.
At that time, living in Romania was like living in a prison, she said. The borders were closed and there were few freedoms. The only real freedom was academic freedom and then it depended on what one studied. Under the Communist regime, the state funded university studies. However, after completing university, each beneficiary had to spend three years doing community service in a remote rural area. The more highly educated someone was the better kind of village they were sent to, Pastarnac recalled this week in a Jerusalem coffee shop.
She knows Jerusalem well from her time as a student at the Hebrew University, and she sees herself as proof of the wisdom of an initiative taken by her country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry immediately after the fall of Communism.
It was the ministry that sent her in February 1990 to do a short Hebrew language course at the university.
“To come to Jerusalem is like coming to another world,” she said, leaving no doubt about her affection for the capital.
After that initial period, she kept gravitating between Bucharest and Jerusalem, spending 1994/5 engaging in postgraduate studies in Hebrew language, literature and international relations. In that same year she did postgraduate work in diplomacy at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Bucharest, and in 1996 was appointed cultural attaché at the Romanian Embassy in Tel Aviv, a post she filled for five years.
Pastarnac is actually an academic who has a masters in philology from Bucharest University, where she specialized in Romanian and French languages, linguistics and literature.
She was fortunate to be born to intellectual parents. Her father is a journalist and her mother is a painter.
“We had books at home and friends with good libraries,” she says.
These libraries contained books acquired during a more liberal era, but no longer available in book stores due to the introduction of strict censorship laws.
Always curious about the world beyond Romania, she used to frequent the French Institute where she could have access to magazines and watch movies in French.
When the time came to go to university, Pastarnac had no desire to study classical Greek, though she did study some Latin. She was interested in something more esoteric, because it would enable her to distance herself from the political mainstream. There were 12 languages available in the philology department – and Hebrew was one of them.
It was a recent addition, introduced after a long period in which the only Semitic language was Arabic.
The choice of Hebrew, despite not being Jewish, was almost fateful in that it propelled her into a diplomatic career, though when she’s home in Bucharest, she also teaches at the university.
Her knowledge of Hebrew, though not as fluent then as it is now, came to the attention of the Foreign Ministry that arranged an examination for her to be sent to study at the Hebrew University. After that she was regarded as an expert on the Middle East, which she finds amusing. During the period that she was the cultural attaché at the Romanian Embassy she taught in the Romanian language program at Tel Aviv University, and after her return to Bucharest in 2001 she taught Hebrew literature at Bucharest University.
During this period she was deputy-director and then director of the ministry’s Middle East and Africa Department.
She was coordinator for the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania and national representative on the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, in addition to the high official for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. From 2006-11, she was her country’s ambassador to Cyprus, and then served for two years as the director-general of the ministry’s Globalization Department; and for one year as the ministry’s special representative for the Middle East. During 2011, she lectured in Hebrew grammar at Bucharest University.
She has been ambassador to Israel since September 2013.
As ambassador, Pastarnac wants to create a platform for greater cooperation between her country and Israel at government level. Till now, she said, tens of thousands of people of Romanian origin in Israel act as a human bridge, many taking on special bilateral projects.
While she deeply appreciates their efforts, she says that more government to government projects are essential especially in the areas of science and innovation.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 Interior Minister Gilad Erdan.