Tamar Golan, diplomat and Africa expert, to be buried today

With her fiery red hair and white clothes, Tamar was always an immediately recognizable and striking figure, with a charismatic and forceful presence.

tamar golan 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
tamar golan 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tamar Golan, the veteran Israeli journalist, diplomat and leading expert on African affairs, passed away Wednesday at age 76.
The funeral will take place in Haifa at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Sde Yehoshua Cemetery, leaving from the Tamar Gate.
With her fiery red hair and white clothes, Tamar was always an immediately recognizable and striking figure.
Though diminutive, she had a charismatic and forceful presence.
Born Tamar Knafi in Haifa, Golan and her late husband, Avihu, were among the founders in the early 1950s of Kibbutz Lahav in the Negev.
She left Lahav in the late 1950s for Haifa, where she became the first Jewish teacher in an Arab school.
Rejected by the Foreign Ministry for a diplomatic position because she was married, she sent an indignant letter to Golda Meir, then Foreign Minister, who invited her for a chat. The result was an assignment to Ethiopia as part of the Foreign Ministry’s aid mission.
It was there that Avihu Golan was killed, and following Indian and African mourning custom, Tamar Golan began wearing only white. Still, Ethiopia was the beginning of her long love affair with the African continent.
In the 1960s she earned a PhD from Columbia University, and eventually became the Africa correspondent for Ma’ariv, Army Radio and the BBC.
A groundbreaking and bold journalist, she traveled to Arab countries long before it became fashionable for Israeli reporters. (The first time I was assigned to report from an Arab country I called Tamar in Paris to ask advice “from one Golan to another.”) Golan’s famous afternoon teas at her Paris apartment were a de rigueur experience for visiting Israelis, African noblemen and Arab statesmen.
It was in her Paris intellectual “salon” that Israelis and Palestinians formed a dialogue group in days when such contacts were illegal.
Throughout her career, Golan built a network of contacts with influential figures in Africa, France and Arab countries, and was reportedly privy to many state secrets.
In 1995, Golan was appointed the first Israeli ambassador to the west African country Angola – as well as the first female ambassador there.
Golan also became Israel’s envoy to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe. After her diplomatic tour of duty, Golan remained in Angola to work for removal of mines throughout the country.
Her first love was always Africa. She wrote three books on Africa, but only Angolan Rendezvous: Man and Nature in the Shadow of War, written with zoologist Dr. Tamar Ron, has been translated into English.
On her return to Israel in 2003, she began teaching African studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, eventually founding the Africa Center at BGU.
“Tamar’s approach to the study of Africa was never purely academic, but also involved political and cultural engagement with Africa,” said Dr. Lynn Schler, head of BGU’s African Studies Division.
Golan also established BGU’s Student Volunteers Program, which sends delegations to various countries for three months of service.
In 2003, I was commissioned by The Jerusalem Post to write a long feature about Golan. As if I were writing a New Yorker profile, I followed her around for a month, even sitting in at her electrifying lectures. But in the end, the piece never ran because Tamar insisted the article be about Africa, and not her.
Alas, this piece is about Tamar.