Even though he has been in Israel since 2008, Spanish Ambassador Fernando Carderera still learns something new every day about the country and its citizens.
It seems that the novelty never wears off because of Israel’s complexity as a Western country based in the Middle East. Carderera calls it “a micro universe.” He lists problems such as conflicts with Palestinians and neighboring countries, water and the environment, the sectoral differences between people of diverse ethnic, religious and national backgrounds and in the same breath he speaks with great admiration of Israel’s amazing creativity.
“You have it all in a nutshell,” he says.
A second-generation diplomat whose eldest brother is also a retired diplomat, the Madrid-born Carderera spent the first five years of his life in Brussels and Lisbon where his father served as a diplomatic representative of the Trade Ministry.
Carderera has no doubt that his choice of profession was influenced by his father and brother. Diplomacy is a profession that all three of them enjoyed, he says.
Until he came to Israel, all of his experience was gained in Europe where he served in various capacities in Germany, Brussels, Finland, Estonia and France as well as in senior positions within the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry. He had no previous experience of the Middle East with the result that his posting here “is like learning everything from scratch.” But he finds Israel to be “a most exciting place.”
Even though he will have a flamenco dancer and guitarist at his Spanish National Day reception this week, one of the tasks he has set himself is to convince Israelis that Spain is much more than tapas and flamencos. He speaks with pride of projects around the globe in which Spanish companies are involved.
London’s Heathrow Airport is managed by a Spanish company.
The high-speed train from Mecca to Medina is the work of a Spanish company. The biggest producer of renewable energy in the United States is a Spanish company. Many aerospace patents were developed by Spanish companies and according to Carderera Spain is the most efficient country in the world in the domain of human organ transplants.
That is just a short list of areas in which Spain excels. The ambassador underscores that Spain’s economy is the fourth-largest in the euro zone, in addition to which Spain invests extensively in foreign countries. All this and more make Spain a compatible and reliable trading partner for Israel, he says.
When it is put to him that some Israelis are under the impression that Spain is anti-Israel because it is so pro-Palestinian, he is quick to say that this is a misconception on the part of Israelis. While it is true that Spanish public opinion is pro-Palestinian he acknowledges, “it’s because they think that the Palestinians are on the weak side but that doesn’t mean that Spain is anti-Israel.”
He says that Israeli tourists receive a warm welcome in Spain and that Spanish tourists receive a warm welcome in Israel. Moreover he says, there are no anti-Semitic attacks in Spain, and there are many similarities in the characters and lifestyles, and even to some extent in the cuisine between Israelis and Spaniards.
Carderera who is very fond of fish and salads and has a series of favorite restaurants in which he orders his favorite foods, says that the way fish is prepared in Israel reminds him of dishes in Spain, although in Spain he pays approximately half of what is charged in restaurants in Israel.
“Israel is a very expensive country,” he remarks.
A devout Catholic, he reads a Bible passage every day from either the Old or the New Testament. He is currently reading the Book of Ezra.
He is often surprised to discover things that had eluded him when he was studying it as a boy.
It could well be because he has a different perspective when reading the Bible in the land of the Bible.
In fact he loves to travel through the Galilee and Jerusalem, not just to retrace the footsteps of Jesus, but also to use the Bible as a guide book to history.
“Our cultural roots are here,” he says.
He thinks that everyone should read the Bible at least once. Like many diplomats history is one of his favorite subjects when it comes to literature – “not just Spanish and Israeli history, but history in general.”
But he also likes to reread classic novels. Over the summer he read Don Quixote in Spanish and Madame Bovary in French, thoroughly enjoying them. His upcoming classic reread is Anna Karenina, but in a Spanish translation. He studied Russian for two years, but his command of the language is not good enough to read a novel. Even though some nuances are lost in translation, a good translator can still do justice to the original he says, citing A tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz that he read in Spanish and that he found to be “beautiful.” He happens to personally know the translator and says that she is very good.
Carderera is a frequent visitor to Jerusalem, not just for diplomatic or religious reasons, but because he is totally enamored with both the Israel Museum and with the Old City.
He loves to tour the museum galleries and when he is hosting visitors from abroad he always takes them to both the Israel Museum and the Old City.
Carderera admires Israeli initiative and creativity, and quotes former president Shimon Peres who attributed Israel’s achievements to the fact that the Jewish People are never satisfied and always strive for more.
He is full of admiration for Israeli solidarity despite the complexities of the society, and points to the fact that Israelis are always ready to help in times of trouble.
He is fascinated by the country’s minorities and tries to visit them as often as possible to learn about them and to familiarize himself with their problems.
“Israeli society is amazing,” he says.
At the same time he is critical of the negative aspects in the brashness of Israelis. This brand of chutzpa he says, shows a particular egoism and lack of respect for others and an impulse to show that one is smarter than one’s neighbors. It is particularly obvious on the road where so many Israelis lack elementary civil behavior.
Ever since Spain announced that it will restore citizenship to descendants of Spanish Jews expelled more than 500 years ago, Carderera’s office has been inundated with inquiries from people who believe they may qualify. In order to do so they have to be able to prove descent, whether they are Jewish or not.
Carderera is very happy at the decision of his country’s government to enable people of Spanish descent to reclaim their heritage. He thinks that the whole situation is remarkable – that a people expelled from its country, living in exile and moving from one country to another should continue to hold Spain in its heart. The main purpose of the new law, he says is to show solidarity and affection for these people whose story is so unique.
It is not quite as unique as he believes, his interviewer reminds him. The Jewish people as a whole were exiled for 2,000 years and continued to carry Jerusalem in their hearts. In the case of the Jews exiled from Spain it’s only 500 years.
The ‘Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference’ will take place on November 18 in Jerusalem.