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Ambassador of the State of Israel to Hungary

Public diplomacy and dialog

“There is a special bond between Hungary and Israel going back to 20th century history, a bond that is still very important today.” That is the view expressed by the of the State of to Hungary, Ilan Mor in an extensive interview covering various aspects of bilateral relations including the uniqueness of the 65-year-old Israeli state that was a ‘start-up nation’ – and still is, although, with a different meaning, bilateral economic and cultural relations, Israeli investments in Hungary, the Jewish community in Hungary and the importance of dialog in all fields of life.

Reacting to
the statement by his predecessor that the mainstream of Hungarian society is
friendly towards Israel, the Ambassador of the State of Israel to Hungary, Ilan
Mor tells Diplomacy & Trade that “I have not noticed any negative changes
regarding the validity of these words but I do not take them for granted. I
continue to intensify efforts in order to make more friends in the Hungarian
society for Israel. I would like to present the modern state of Israel with a
large variety of topics which are less known to the Hungarian public. I believe
that the more information we present the better!”

He adds
that “we are concentrating very much on the issue of Public Diplomacy in order
to make the Embassy of the State Israel more accessible for the Hungarian
public – not only in Budapest but also for the countryside. It involves
traveling in and around the country, giving lectures to high school students
and at the universities, meeting people, hearing their points of view about
Israel, and presenting them with the various aspects of my country.” The
reaction is always very positive, emphasizes the Ambassador.

Israel in
unique

This year,
Israel celebrates the 65th anniversary of its establishment. As the Ambassador
points out, the case of Israel is unique and part of this uniqueness has to do
with two parallel developments. “Since the very beginning, that is 1948, we had
to develop our society, build our nation from scratch, the education system,
the healthcare system, the political system, the academic system, etc. In
addition, we had to cater to millions of immigrants and absorb Jewish brothers
and sisters from all over the world. We are still welcoming the arrival of
about 17,000 immigrants every year. At the beginning, the size of my country’s
population was 650,000, while nowadays, it is over 8 million. This growth has
come along with a lot of achievements over these six and a half decades. For
example, just in the past ten years, we have had six Nobel Prize winners, which
shows that it is not only the basic necessities that we provide for our people
but also a lot in science and technology, education, medical studies, etc.”

The other
very important parallel development for Israel is its survival, in a very
hostile neighborhood. The basic existence of the State of Israel is being
questioned on a daily basis “as there are still countries in the Middle East,
and elsewhere, which do not accept the idea, the existence of Israel as a
democratic, pluralistic, open Jewish state. War, terror, threats are geared
against us. In the civilian and academic fields, there are people who do not
believe in the legitimacy of the State of Israel and they wish to isolate, and
to boycott my country. These two developments make the case of Israel unique: nation-building
and nation defending in parallel,” he adds.

Start-up
nation

Although,
it is a recently coined phrase, the expression ‘start-up nation’ also applies
to Israel historically. Today, this phrase is used in connection with the
rapidly growing technological sector that boasts 3,500-4,000 start-up
companies. These companies are not only profitable but also contribute to the
development of the world in order to make it a better place. One fine example
from the 1990s is the instant messaging computer program ICQ developed by young
Israelis. “In Israel, necessity has become a driving force – we don’t take ‘no’
for an answer. We think out of the box. Since we are lacking natural resources,
we have to rely on the only resource that we have, which is the human being.
Human resources – like in Hungary – have great potential. In the second half of
this year, there will be a Hungarian-Israeli Innovation Day in Budapest with
Israeli high-tech firms participating and discussing cooperation possibilities
with Hungarian companies in and outside Budapest. I welcome the participation
of all Hungarian entrepreneurs interested,” Ilan Mor adds.

Economic
relations

The
Ambassador is of the view that “bilateral economic relations are good but are
never good enough! The sky is the limit.” In 2012, bilateral trade volume
reached USD 600 million, which is good, but not good enough. That is why he
pushed for the reconvening of the Israel-Hungary joint economic committee this
May in Jerusalem with a high-ranking delegation from Budapest attending and
signing a protocol on how economic relations can be further enhanced, be it
high-tech, agriculture, water management or other issues that the two countries
have excellent experience and where joining forces can create further achievements,
a “win-win” situation. The water conference ‘Watec’ is to take place in Israel
in October, 2013, followed – two weeks later – by the World Water Summit in
Budapest. “We hope that we can share our experiences with other nations of the
world. You can find Israeli water management experts in Africa, South America
or the Far East – these are also regions where Hungarians and Israelis can work
together to the benefit of a third party that is less developed in these
fields,” he points out.

As for
Israeli investors in Hungary, the number one is definitely the pharmaceutical
company TEVA that invested over EUR 3 billion in the past years. The ambassador
stresses that “it is a very profitable company but all its revenues are being
reinvested in Hungary with part of these being used for the benefit of the
Hungarian society. Just think of the support it provides for culture (like for
the Budapest theater ‘Vígszínház’) or sports (water polo or football, DVSC
TEVA)”. As for the latter, the Ambassador takes this opportunity to
congratulate the Debrecen football team DVSC-TEVA for winning the Hungarian Cup
in May. Another investor to mention is Nav N Go with its world-renowned GPS
software iGo, a firm that employs over 300 Hungarian software engineers working
to enhance this product. Another Israeli company, Makhteshim Agan, is an
agrochemicals' manufacturer and distributor of crop protection products and
solutions used by a lot of farmers in Hungary.

Cultural
ties and traditions

Ilan Mor
stresses that “Israel is a Jewish state, which rests on three pillars: Jewish
religion, Jewish culture and Jewish traditions. Using these three pillars as a
base, we in Israel develop what we call an Israeli culture, which is very
unique to our position in the Middle East. This culture evolves from the
melting pot of many Jewish people coming together, working to implement their
‘second chapter in life’ within Israel and having children who are born as true
Israelis.” Reflected in this culture is how they see the world, how they feel about
being in an enclosure in the Middle East. The various groups who moved to
Israel in the past decades brought their own cultural elements into this
melting pot. All these aspects contribute to create an original Israeli
culture, which is still being formed today and thus, too early to define. “This
uniqueness is reflected in music, writing, exhibitions that we try to present
for the Hungarians, in spite of budgetary constraints. For instance, the
Israeli Film Festival has become a tradition in Budapest,” he adds.

Also,
Israel and Hungary signed an agreement on co-production of feature films and
movies, providing opportunities for talented Hungarian directors and actors to
take advantage of experiences gained by the Israeli film industry, which
recently produced Academy Award candidate movies for two years in a row.
“Another example highlighting our activities this year is the participation of
Israel at the Budapest International Book Fair with three Israeli authors
coming here to launch the Hungarian editions of their books that help Hungarian
readers understand better other aspects of life in Israel in a different way
than is portrayed in the daily news.”

Jewish
issues

Hungary has
the biggest Jewish community, estimated around 100,000, in the region. Ilan Mor
says he has very good relations with this community and cherishes such
relations is part of his duty. “There is a very fruitful and dynamic dialog
with the community. Israel knows that part of our moral strength comes from
Jewish communities in the diaspora. At the same time, every Jewish community
all over the world also knows that in maintaining their culture, their
religion, their traditions, they have to have a strong Israel behind them. So,
it is a kind of symbiosis, an open and honest dialog. This dialog was also on
the agenda of the World Jewish Congress held in Budapest. Participants
discussed ways of fighting anti-Semitism, dealing with their own problems and
their relationship with Israel. It was a success from the Jewish point of view,
as well as from the point of view of Hungary and Israel.”

He points
out that “the fact that this event was held for the first time outside Israel
is also a sign of support for the Hungarian Jewish community. I take special
care to visit the different Jewish communities wherever I travel throughout the
country. I believe that young Hungarians should learn more, not only about the
‘Shoah’ but also about the fruitful coexistence of Hungarian Jews and non-Jews
before World War I.”

The
ambassador says that unfortunately anti-Semitism is to be found all over the
world. “It is a disease that must be fought by all of us. There should be a
unified effort to eradicate anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia. This would make
the world a better place. The main issue is how to implement the laws enacted
against anti-Semitism and hate speeches and how to isolate those people who
propagate them. There is a lot to be done in this respect in Hungary, too. For
example, against recent voices and deeds which were taken by certain members of
the Hungarian Parliament.”

A curious
person who believes in dialog

“I’m a very
curious person, I like to ask questions and I like to see a lot of things. I
visit places in Budapest as much as I can, as well as outside the capital. Just
recently, I have been to the Mátra Hills with Kékestetõ, the highest peak in
Hungary and I drove around the area in Nógrád county, enjoying the beautiful
scenery,” he says, adding that he has only one ‘bad’ experience: “Hungarian
food is so very good that it is bad,” he ‘complains’ with a smile, about the
richness of the food, not to mention the delicious desserts.

His overall
experience in Hungary is positive. “I meet a lot of good, friendly people who
listen to what I have to tell them about Israel. They don’t have to agree with
me, but at least we have an open and honest dialog. I am a great believer in
dialog – dialog between people and societies can avoid a lot of
misunderstanding and misperceptions. It is a tool through which we can get to
know each other. This is what I’m trying to do here,” Ambassador Mor concludes.

Sándor Laczkó

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