History was made in Jerusalem on Wednesday, when Ruben Marial Benjamin, South Sudan’s first ambassador to Israel, presented his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin.
While it is customary for a new envoy to also present the letter recalling his or her predecessor, in Benjamin’s case there was only a letter of credence. Wearing a broad smile, Benjamin said: “I have the honor to present my letter of credence as the first ambassador of South Sudan to Israel.”
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan only in 2011, and is still in the process of establishing diplomatic relations with the nations of the world.
Israel recognized South Sudan on July 10, 2011, a day after it achieved independence, though bilateral relations go back more than 40 years during which time Israel provided agricultural and social development aid through Mashav, the international cooperation division of the Foreign Ministry.
Benjamin was the third of four new ambassadors who presented their credentials on Wednesday.
The other three ambassadors were Feliciano Antonio dos Santos, ambassador of Angola; Nathaniel G. Imperial, ambassador of the Philippines; and Margaret Ann Louise Jobson, the non-resident ambassador of Jamaica.
Dos Santos, who comes from a distinguished military background, arrived in Israel on October 28 and succeeds Jose Joao Manuel, who was Angola’s ambassador to Israel for nearly 15 years.
Prior to taking up his current appointment, Imperial was the director of Middle East and African affairs at the Philippines Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Jobson is a prime example of the old adage that woman’s work is never done. She has been entrusted with an incredible load of diplomatic responsibilities.
In addition to being Jamaica’s ambassador to Israel, she is also Jamaica’s ambassador to the Holy See, to Russia, Germany, and all the countries of Eastern Europe. She resides in Berlin, and her life is a merry-goround of commutes.
Rivlin made a point of welcoming the ambassadors to “Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel” and with two of them found a talking a point about his second favorite subject – soccer.
When he heard dos Santos speaking Portuguese, he told him that he reminded him of Pele, the famous Brazilian soccer player whom he has met many times, and who sounds just like dos Santos when he speaks.
With Benjamin, the conversation about soccer was longer, because Benjamin is a retired soccer player who played on Sudan’s national team before South Sudan won independence.
Benjamin recalled that, during the country’s war of 1969, some of South Sudan’s army officers, who are today the leaders of the country, were trained in Israel.
Rivlin told him that he is familiar with the history of South Sudan and had hosted the prime minister when he came to Israel two years ago.
“Your self-determination reminds us of our own self-determination,” he told Benjamin. “Both our countries are eager to be at peace with our neighbors. Unfortunately our neighbors don’t realize that cooperation instead of hatred is in their mutual interest.”
In greeting Imperial, Rivlin said that he was particularly happy, because only two weeks earlier Israel had celebrated the 67th anniversary of the United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine, and in November 1947, the Philippines had been the only country in Asia which supported the creation of a Jewish state, the State of Israel.
“We will remember that forever,” said Rivlin, who also spoke of the important contribution that the 30,000 member Filipino community in Israel is making in the realm of caregiving. Imperial noted that the connection between the Philippines and the Jewish people dated further, because in the 1930s, President Quezon offered Jews a haven from the Nazis. Today, it is Israel that is helping the Philippines. Imperial commented that Israel is a major partner in improving the military capabilities of the defense forces of the Philippines.
Rivlin, who has visited Jamaica, had much to discuss with Jobson. It was only when he was in Jamaica, he said, that he realized the meaning of the lyrics in Harry Belafonte’s enduring hit “Island in the sun.” He also mentioned Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley.
Rivlin said he would have preferred for Jobson to be located in Israel rather than Berlin, saying that it rains too much in Europe. He indicated, however, that he would be seeing her in Berlin in May. Both Rivlin and Jobson discussed the Mashav programs from which Jamaican professionals have benefited. Jobson said that 500 of her countrymen have been students in Israel.