A Week in the Life: Australian Embassy, Tel Aviv

People often ask me – with all sincerity – what it is the Embassy actually does. It’s a fair enough question. Beyond the issuing of visas and passports, most of the Embassy and its work is done behind closed doors, out of the public eye. In an effort to open these doors (and to dispel the myth that diplomacy is all cocktail parties in exotic locales), here are twelve things your Embassy staff in Tel Aviv did last week.
 
  1. Organised, opened and hosted GasTech – the first oil and gas conference of its kind in Israel. Recent offshore gas discoveries have the potential to transform Israel’s energy security and its relations with its neighbours. But building a gas industry is not easy, and Israel needs help from experienced partners like Australia. Woodside already has a foot in the door here – to which we provide ongoing support – and the follow-on commercial opportunities for Australian firms are immense.
  2. Sent a team to Gaza to check up on Australian citizens there. They also looked at Australian aid projects in Gaza and gathered a first-hand sense of the political, security and humanitarian situation. With Hamas still in control of Gaza, the new government in Egypt shutting down many of the smuggling routes, and the economic outlook poor, the risk of Gaza erupting as a security flashpoint is real.
  3. Met with the Mayor of Tel Aviv to talk about the Creative Cities network (both Sydney and Melbourne are members; Tel Aviv wants to join) and hear about his ambitions for the city. With Tel Aviv positioning itself as a young, vibrant, green and creative city – much like many Australian cities – there are lots of potential link-ups here in the areas of urban planning and town management.
  4. Visited the organisation that looks after disabled veterans in Israel. With 50,000 disabled veterans in Israel – almost the size of the entire Australian Defence Force – there are great opportunities to learn from Israel’s experience in rehabilitating wounded and injured soldiers.
  5. Followed the impassioned debate in the Israeli Knesset on the status of the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif – a holy site for both Muslims and Jews. The status quo here is fragile, so any changes to current arrangements could have serious repercussions and lead to violence.
  6. Prepared analysis for government officials in Canberra on regional developments in the Middle East. With the region more volatile and unstable than it has been for many years, Israel is a relative oasis of quiet. But it watches the neighbourhood closely and has some of the best analysts and thinkers in the region.
  7. Caught up with several senior Israeli journalists to swap notes. Israel is the most open society in the Middle East, with a fiercely independent, free and effective media. Journalists are some of the best-informed people here on current events, so they are vital contacts. 
  8. Met with visiting leaders from the Australian Jewish community to talk about the relationship and swap notes on upcoming events and priorities. 
  9. Spent a day touring the border regions of Israel and the Palestinian territories to get a sense of security needs and what would constitute ‘defensible borders’ – a key concept in the current US-led peace initiative.
  10. Helped an Australian who has just relocated his family to Israel for work find a school for his son and navigate the admissions process.
  11. Ran the Tel Aviv marathon (okay, it was only the half marathon) on behalf of an NGO that helps protect the welfare and look out for the interests of Holocaust survivors. Australia has one of the highest number of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel.  With the average age of this group now in the 80s, these survivors – who have already been through so much – deserve our help and support to live out their last years with dignity and self-respect.
  12. Spoke at the first ever International Congress for Child Protection Organisations in the Jewish Community, in Jerusalem. Again, this is about sharing lessons and experiences. There was a lot of interest in Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and how we are grappling with the challenge. 

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