An Audience with the Ambassador of the State of Israel


An Audience with HE Daniel Taub

Ambassador of the State of Israel

to the Court of St James  

Tuesday, 17th June 2014
On Tuesday 17th June, the South London Israel Forum (SLIF) and  Chaverim of Sutton and District Synagogue jointly hosted a talk with His Excellency Daniel Taub, Ambassador of the State of Israel to the Court of St James at Sutton & District Synagogue.       This being the first of a few planned celebrations to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Consecration of the synagogue building at Cedar Road, Sutton this coming October.              
Welcoming an audience in excess of 155,  Vice Chairman Rica Infante announced that the topic would be:  The New Challenges and Opportunities in Israel Diplomacy.
Mervyn Smith, the Sutton SLIF Representative, then introduced Ambassador Taub with a brief C.V.

HE Daniel Taub was born in London in 1962 and is Oxford and Harvard educated.  In 1989, he emigrated to Israel.  During his army service, he served as a combat medic and as a reserve officer in the army’s international law division.  In 1991 he joined the Israeli Foreign Ministry.  Throughout his service in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, he has played a key role in a wide range of diplomatic, legal and political arenas.


Ambassador Taub is an expert in international law, with specializations in counter-terrorism and the laws of war.   As Principal Deputy Legal Advisor of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he served as legal adviser to Israel's missions to the United Nations in New York and Geneva, and represented Israel in many multilateral forums. 


He was extensively involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, helping negotiate most of the agreements reached between the two sides, and heading the Israeli side of the Culture of Peace track of negotiations. He was also an active member of Israel's negotiation team in the Israel-Syrian negotiations.  He was a liaison to the UN investigative committee Gaza flotilla raid and was involved in dealing with lawsuits against Israeli officials worldwide, especially in the UK.  


He has written HaHatzer, a modern soap opera set in the court of a Chassidic Rebbe for an Israeli TV channel.  He was appointed as Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom in June 2011.  He and his wife Zehava have six children.
Ambassador Taub began by asking Rabbi Lev of Sutton & District Synagogue to recite one of the Tehilim or psalms for the three missing teenagers: Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Sha’er and Naftali Frankel from the West Bank.

Rabbi Lev sang Psalm 121: I lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from where will my help come?  The Ambassador remarked that Communities across Britain had shown care, concern and solidarity for the boys and their families 3000 miles away.

 Ambassador Taub began by outlining the ways in which representing Israel is different from that of other countries.  He said there were three categories to consider: how the world relates to an Israeli diplomat, how the Jewish world relates to an Israeli diplomat and how the diplomat relates to himself. 

With regard to the first point, he observed that Israel receives a degree of media coverage disproportionate to its size, as one of the smaller countries (the size of Wales).   Much of this attention is unfairly critical.   He said that although the UN is a wonderful institution, there is discrimination, stemming from the one state/one vote system.   However, on a bilateral level, relationships are quite good.  Members who might publicly criticize Israel are keen to share technological expertise.   


With regard to the second point, he noted that non-Jewish diplomats also work for the Foreign Office:  Israeli Arabs and the first Bedouin diplomat.   Israeli diplomats deal with anti-Semitism, anti-shechita protest (Jewish ritual slaughter) and Holocaust denial.   Responses are also informed by Jewish ethics, such as being among the first to respond to an international tragedy, or willingness to absorb refugees.  The relationship with the Jewish community ranges from most critical to the most supportive.  Support for Israel raises issues of dual loyalties and assimilation.   


The final point, how Israeli diplomats relate to themselves, is that they have a particular conviction about their work, although all diplomats are working to advance the interests of a country.  The story of Israeli diplomacy is entwined with the history of Israel.   It has grown from small and modest beginnings to over 100 embassies worldwide.  There is also a Remembrance Wall for diplomats fallen in service of their country.  He concluded by stressing the importance of feeling and showing esteem for Israel and taking this week’s Parsha (Torah portion) of “Shelach”, the story of the twelve spies as an example, he quoted the passage of the ten spies who were negative about the Promised Land and reported that “ there were giants and we became as grass-hoppers in our own eyes and that is how they saw us” or in context: that other countries will interpret Israel by the way that Jews all over the world respond to it.


Mervyn Smith thanked the Ambassador and noted that visitors from Catford & Bromley,  Kingston US, Kingston Liberal, Richmond US, South London Synagogue,  Staines, Sutton, Wimbledon Reform and Nightingale House residents (Wandsworth) had all come to listen to him speak. Then Daniel Heller took the microphone around for audience questions to the Ambassador.

Jack Morris:  How do you suggest I justify the building and expansion of settlements in the West Bank?


The Ambassador said that this was a debate within Israel itself.  On the one hand there was a right as there had been strong historical Jewish connections in places like Hebron until the Arab riots of 1929.  However, he acknowledged that the Palestinians have aspirations too, quoting: “We have to give up part of our dreams to leave room for the dreams of others.”  They could talk peace, if there was a partner for peace.


Michael Cohen:   During recent Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, what is more ethical, giving up land or the release of prisoners with blood on their hands?


The Ambassador answered that it was part of a complex political and moral debate in Israel.  The released prisoners were responsible for murder and it had been very painful especially for the families involved.  It was (West Bank) President Abbas’ decision and that of the Security Cabinet in Israel.


Carolyn Smith:   When you took up your post in the UK what were your aspirations and have any reached fulfilment?


The Ambassador answered that he had set out a series of goals in different spheres, such as political, technical, academic, and media and that a number of them had been progressed.   For example, he built new relationships with churches and trade unions.  He was particularly pleased with his “Closer to Israel” initiative in the Jewish community, developing interest in Israel through film and culture.  He cited the Israel Film Festival and the massive rally for Israel’s 65th Anniversary of Independence.


Paul Sarfaty:   Looking at Israel’s neighbours, with the spotlight on Egypt and Syria, can you tell us about Jordan and Lebanon?


The Ambassador replied that we need to be humble - we know little about our neighbours.  Despite Intelligence, no-one foresaw The Arab Spring.  Also, there was not much we could do about it, because things turn out to be different from how you want.  We have not had such upheaval in the Middle East for a hundred years. Israel was watching Syria with alarm:  Assad has lost his power, but there are concerns about what the extremist elements among the rebels represent, including British born Jihadists.   Israel offered humanitarian aid to Syrians, who were treated in Israeli hospitals and kept quiet about it on their return.   Israel stopped the transfer of heavy weaponry to Hizbollah in Lebanon.  Diplomats worked with the British Government to have Hizbollah designated a terrorist organisation.   On a positive note, Israel is cautiously, quietly developing interests with its more pragmatic neighbours.


Laurence Rosen: What is the reason for Israel’s burgeoning relationship with BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China’s) fast growing economies?

The Ambassador replied that Israel is a hive of innovation and that the BRIC countries are able to take advantage of that.  Israel is a knowledge-based economy and until recently generally lacked natural resources.   He pointed out that over a million Russian immigrants had benefitted the country, bringing technical expertise.   He also stressed that army service gave responsibility to young people so that they became better innovators.

David Greer: Quoted the biblical promise of Jewish return and asked why the government gave away the Land.


The Ambassador answered that you can read a biblical promise two ways: as an obligation on man not to act in contravention or to say that it is G-d’s responsibility. We have to do the best we can with the cards we are given.


Mervyn Smith:   Is G4S’s downsizing of security work in Israel a direct result of the ‘Boycott Israel Goods’ movement?

The Ambassador replied that the downsizing was not influenced by it as it had been planned long ago.   He emphasised that the Embassy is in active discussion with companies who wish to work in Israel.  He also showed that the boycott movement was not interested in peace, but in the destruction of Israel.   By contrast, an initiative from MIT sends young computer scientists to teach programming skills to young Israelis and Palestinians, bringing them together.   People interested in peace should ask what they have to offer to make a positive difference in the area.


Daniel Heller:   If Israel qualified for the Qatar World Cup, what would be the diplomatic fall out?


The Ambassador replied  that there is potential for bridge building there; for trade, technology, medical treatment and, by implication, football as well. 


Professor Stuart Stanton of SLIF then gave the vote of thanks.  He presented the Ambassador with a cheque for £100 from SLIF for the Israeli charity Yad Sarah and a bottle of Speaker Berkow’s whisky signed by the Rt. Hon. John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons on behalf of Sutton & District Synagogue as a token of our appreciation.   He thanked SLIF, Chaverim, the CST (security) and Ambassador Taub’s own staff for facilitating the evening.  
Splendid refreshments organised by Chaverim and members of the Sutton community were served in the hall thanks to an anonymous sponsor.
Pictures of this event can be found in the photo gallery ..................
This site has been presented in loving memory of Eva and Joe Sarfaty

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