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Israel's ambassador to Australia, Naftali Tamir, is on his way home to clarify comments in a newspaper interview in which he was quoted as saying that Israel and Australia are "like sisters in Asia," because "we don't have yellow skin and slanted eyes."
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Ilana Ravid said that Tamir, who was on his way back to Canberra after a short vacation in Israel, was called back to Jerusalem for a "further clarification" to determine whether Tamir made the comments attributed to him.
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Ravid said the fact that the ministry called Tamir back as he was en route to Australia indicated how seriously it took the matter.
She said Tamir told the ministry his comments were not accurately reported.
Tamir, a veteran diplomat who has served in Australia since 2005, was quoted in Ha'aretz as saying, "Israel and Australia are like sisters in Asia. We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don't have yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are not - we are basically the white race. We are on the western side of Asia and they are on the southeastern side."
The ministry issued a statement on Friday saying that it was conducting an internal clarification to determine whether the quotes were accurate.
If the report was accurate, the statement said, then the remarks were "grave and unacceptable," and the ministry would not be able to carry on with "business as usual."
Tamir, who previously served as ambassador to Finland and also served in various posts in Washington, Tokyo and Strasbourg, is also Israel's non-resident ambassador to New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.