By Charlotte Halle, Haaretz Correspondent
The Foreign Ministry on Friday condemned remarks by the Israeli ambassador to Australia in which he told Haaretz that the two countries are white sisters amid “the yellow race” of Asia.
“If the article is accurate, this is a grave and unacceptable remark,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The ministry said it will not return to business as usual if an internal examination confirms that the ambassador, Naftali Tamir, in fact made the comments attributed to him.
Tamir said that due to what he characterized as the racial similarities between Israel and Australia, the two countries should work together to enhance ties with other Asian countries.
“Israel and Australia are like sisters in Asia,” Tamir said in an interview with Haaretz during a visit to Israel this week. “We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don’t have yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are not – we are basically the white race. We are on the western side of Asia and they are on the southeastern side.”
“Israel has not fully acknowledged the value of working together with Australia in Asia,” Tamir said. “It’s a way for us to cooperate with and enhance our position in the countries neighboring Australia.”
In a meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni this week, Tamir emphasized the potential for developing trade and other links in Asia via Australia and the “necessity” that she visit Australia.
“One shouldn’t take for granted friendships anywhere in the world,” said Tamir, noting that “Australia is not lagging behind the U.S.” in its support of Israel. “[Livni] listened very attentively and highly praised Australia,” he said.
“Israel has a past and present in Europe, but no future,” said Tamir. “Israel is a part of Asia.”
Tamir said he did not raise the subject of reopening the Israeli consulate in Sydney during the meeting. The consulate’s closure due to budget cuts some four years ago was fiercely protested by Australia’s Jewish community, which later offered to finance its operations to keep it open.
“I am very much in support of reopening the consulate,” Tamir told Haaretz. “But at the present time, due to budgetary limitations – which are even greater than they were before – it’s simply not feasible.”
A career diplomat who served in Tokyo, Washington, Strasbourg and as ambassador in Finland, Tamir is also Israel’s non-resident ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Zealand, where Israel closed its embassy in 2002, also for budgetary reasons.
Though in Australia since January 2005, Tamir was only accredited in New Zealand a year ago, following the resumption of normal diplomatic relations between the two countries after Israel extended a formal apology for its role in the “passport affair.” In 2004 two alleged Mossad agents were apprehended and jailed after attempting to obtain a New Zealand passport by fraudulent means.
Late last year, then-foreign minister Silvan Shalom announced that Israel would reopen its embassy in Wellington, but this has not yet happened. While Tamir strongly advocates reopening the mission there, other sources in the Foreign Ministry indicated that if New Zealand opened its own embassy here, things on the Israeli side might speed up.
New Zealand, which currently conducts its diplomatic contacts with Israel from its embassy in Turkey, has been frequently critical of Israel in recent years, although some commentators note this was slightly moderated during the recent war in Lebanon.