With elections less than 24 hours away on Monday morning, President Isaac Herzog’s mind was more on diplomacy than on politics as he prepared to receive the credentials of six new ambassadors – four of whom are non-resident.
Each had a separate meeting with him in which they discussed issues such as developments in their respective countries, taking relations with Israel to a higher level, economics, innovation and the challenges of climate change.
The ambassadors in order of appearance were Alexandr Roitman of Moldova, Lydia Ofusua Amarty of Ghana, Shebba Shumbayaonda of Zimbabwe, Zoe Coulson-Sinclair of New Zealand, Munkhbayar Gombosuren of Mongolia and Ilana Seid of Palau.
The Moldovan ambassador is no stranger to Israel, having been promoted from being consul general. The key points in his discussion with Herzog were climate change and the energy crisis in Europe. They also related to the Ukrainian refugees taken in by Moldova and to the Jewish community, which Roitman said is quite active.
The ambassador of Ghana and her entourage all came attired in their national dress. Herzog told her that he was “a big fan of Ghana” which is known for its natural beauty, its diversity, its democracy and the stability of its government.
Herzog said that he was pleased to have met Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo in London, when both had attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
When writing an inscription in the presidential guest book, Amarty started with the word Shalom (hello or peace), which she wrote in Hebrew.
The ambassador of Zimbabwe, who is stationed in Cairo, is a former air marshal who retired from the Zimbabwe Air Force in 2019 after forty years of service in several commanding positions.
He was one of the country’s first black pilots and is credited with being among the founders of the combat pilots’ unit in the ZAF.
Herzog said that Israel looks forward to “an excellent relationship” with Zimbabwe, and was certain that Shumbayaonda would find many friends in the Israel Air Force.
Ordinarily, if Ankara-based New Zealand ambassador Coulson-Sinclair would be in Israel at this time, she would have joined her Australian colleague Paul Griffiths in the south of the country for the 105th annual commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba, which was won by members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. But presenting her letter of credence on this occasion, took priority over honoring the ANZACs.
Coulson-Sinclair came wearing a traditional Maori cape, which Herzog found fascinating and wanted to know what it signified. The two also discussed New Zealand’s long history with Israel, the state visit in the 1980s by Herzog’s father, who was the first president of Israel to visit there, the comparison between the Jewish religion and that of the Maori people, the Jewish community – which according to the ambassador is strong and in touch with decision makers – and, of course, climate change, a subject that is very important to New Zealand and a subject close to Herzog’s heart.
Following in his father's footsteps
The ambassador suggested that Herzog might care to follow in his father’s footsteps and visit her country – a suggestion to which he was not averse.
Mongolia’s Gombasuren, a former mayor and minister for housing and construction, is also stationed in Ankara. Herzog joked with him that they should do a swap. Mongolia, with a vast terrain, has a small population of about 4.5 million, whereas Israel, which has very little territory, has a population approaching the 10 million mark.
Herzog wanted to learn about the relationship that Mongolia, a landlocked country, has with its neighbors, and was pleased to hear that there are very few problems.
Among the people accompanying the ambassador was his four-year-old son, who was somewhat restless, took a shine to Herzog and nestled against him. The president cradled him, without missing a beat in the conversation, then fed him chocolate after asking the boy’s mother if it was all right to do so.
The ambassador noted that relations between his country and Israel extend just over thirty years. Full diplomatic ties were established in October 1991.
PALAU’S SEID, though familiar with Israel where she has relatives, is based in New York as her country’s permanent representative to the UN.
In her conversation with Herzog, she mentioned that her grandfather had been a fighter pilot in the European campaign and had shot down several enemy planes.
Herzog responded that not enough is known about the 1.5 million Jewish service personnel who fought in the Second World War. He added that it would be an honor to include her grandfather in the memorial museum that is being built in Latrun in tribute to these soldiers.
The museum will be named for Herzog’s father, Chaim, who was a British officer in the Second World War, and later an officer in Israel’s War of Independence and beyond.
A representative of Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that long before her present appointment, Seid had stood up for Israel at international forums.
Herzog will not have to immediately worry about who to task with forming a government. According to the law, he cannot meet with delegations from the various parties represented in the Knesset until the election results are finalized and presented to him, and this will happen on November 9, which gives him a little breathing space.
He will cast his own vote at 8:30 a.m. at the Charles E. Smith School of the Arts, where his father voted when he was president.