Meet the Ambassador: No longer a conference diplomat

Ahead of The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, The Post's Greer Fay Cashman is meeting some of the leading foreign ambassadors currently serving in Israel.

CARL MAGNUS NESSER (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For many members of the diplomatic community who visited southern cities such as Ashdod and Ashkelon during Operation Protective Edge, the experience of knowing that a rocket could suddenly come across the border from Gaza was new and frightening.
While it was frightening for Swedish Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser, it certainly was not new for him. Until a little more than a year before he came to Israel, he had served as Sweden’s ambassador in Baghdad.
On the fourth day of his posting there, he was visiting the American embassy when it was hit by a rocket. Fortunately for him, the attack came just as he was leaving the compound so he emerged from the ordeal unscathed.
Until the Baghdad posting, Nesser was what he calls “a conference diplomat” – in other words, he spent most of the time sitting around at meetings.
A career diplomat, the 43-year-old Nesser has had the benefits of an international education. He was an exchange student in France and, later, after graduating with degrees in International Business Administration, Economics and Law from Lund University in Sweden, he earned a Masters in law at Columbia University in New York.
He held a desk job at Sweden’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs for three years, then spent a year working for a law office, after which he was sent back to New York as First Secretary of Sweden’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
After five years in the Big Apple, he spent two years as deputy head of Sweden’s Permanent Delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe before going to Baghdad as his country’s ambassador.
Two years later, he returned to Stockholm where he spent a year as Chief of Staff at the Foreign Ministry before being posted to Israel in 2013.
It was a posting he really wanted because it represented the closing of a circle, he tells The Jerusalem Post.
In Sweden, cadet diplomats toward the end of their training course are permitted to take on an assignment in any country of their choice. In December 1999, a major Holocaust conference was being organized in Stockholm at which a groundbreaking declaration was to be made regarding Holocaust education in Swedish schools, so Nesser chose to come to Israel where he thought he would find the most useful data in preparation for the conference.
In fact, the first place he came to was the ambassador’s residence in which he currently lives, never imagining when he came as a cadet that he would return as his country’s envoy.
Neither Baghdad nor Tel Aviv were conference postings.
In Israel, he is constantly on the go. Yes, there are conferences and seminars, but most of the time he is going to places of discovery, where seeing is believing.
His interview with The Post is in the evening because he has spent the day at Ashdod Port and Kibbutz Nahal Oz, visiting both places with embassy colleagues and Finnish Ambassador Leena-Kaisa- Mikkola.
Theoretically, Nesser was aware that Sweden’s Ikea products enter Israel via Ashdod, but to actually witness the unloading was something of a revelation.
Swedish and Finnish paper also comes into Israel via Ashdod and, according to Nesser, the bulk of Israel’s newsprint is imported from Sweden and Finland.
Like all other envoys in Israel, Nesser had been informed of the proximity of Gaza to Nahal Oz, but he didn’t completely absorb how threatening this geographic closeness was until he was there last week and stood at the observation point. It was only then that he realized Gaza was literally across the road.
It was important, he says, to learn first hand of the difficulties and tragedies that the people of Nahal Oz experienced during this past summer and how they’ve coped with the challenges that still confront them.
Nesser is very much a look, listen and learn diplomat who admits that he sometimes has a bad conscience because there is so much more that he should be doing and simply not enough scope in terms of time for him to do all that he wants to.
“Anyone interested in international affairs will be interested in Israel,” he says. “It’s a fascinating country with wonderful weather, warm people, historic sites, beautiful nature and lots of culture and restaurants. It’s a fantastic posting which allows you to develop as a person.”
As an afterthought, Nesser, with a twinkle in his eye adds: “It’s also politically interesting.”
The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference will take place on December 11 at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, including speeches by President Reuven Rivlin, former president Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.