First of all, Mr. Ambassador Saranga, since this is your first interview with Nine O’Clock since your return to Bucharest, please allow us to wish you a warm welcome back to Romania, and to extend you our sincere wishes for a prosperous and successful mandate here.
“Romania has an important place in my heart”. With these words, you started your presentation video message broadcast prior to your arrival here, where you’ve spoken about your special ties with this country. How was your re-accommodation here, at HOME, after 20 years since your first diplomatic assignment in this country?
It is true that I returned to a familiar place but on the other hand, it is a new country, with an amazing evolution. Regarding my feelings, there is a saying: “You can take one out of Romania but you cannot take Romania out of one’s heart” I have to tell you that when I arrived in January, I was asking myself if the newspaper Nine o’clock still existed, as I was getting a lot of information from you. And guess what? That morning, Nine o’clock was waiting for me on my desk. So the world kept on moving but, fortunately, good things remained still.
In the same video message, with which you have conquered the hearts of Romanians who consider you a great friend of Romania, you stated that it’s a huge joy for you to return to Romania, the country with which Israel has had an interrupted and ascending relationship since the creation of the State of Israel. What is in your opinion, “the secret” of such a lasting friendship which has overcome the vicissitudes even of the worst of times?
The relationship between Romania and Israel is very good but I think there are many things to do before we get to the highest peak. Let’s not forget that many Jews who founded the State of Israel are of Romanian origins and I can say that Romanian DNA is in the Israeli DNA. As you might be aware of, 400.000 Jews of Romanian origins live currently in Israel. So the human connection is utterly important and the fact that our cultures are similar also helped in maintaining the great relationship between our two countries.
If you are to make a review of the first three months of mandate as Israel’s Ambassador to Romania, which would be the balance sheet of this lapse of time?
Presenting an overview of my first four months is quite challenging, as it would translate into the numerous meetings I had with government officials, the business environment, students, media, culture representatives. Looking back at all this intense period, what I would like to highlight is the warmth with which the Romanian people received me.
In the meantime, you also prepare to host the first reception for Israel’s National Day. What is your main message on this occasion?
This year, we will not have the traditional reception that we used to do every year. Instead, we have decided to donate the money we had for the reception to a big NGO in Romania which is doing something great for the children in Romania. I hope other embassies and also, private companies in Romania will follow our initiative and donate to any NGO that makes the world a better place.
Since your arrival here, you have repeatedly mentioned that one of your main goals here is to give an impetus to the strengthening of the bilateral economic cooperation, mainly in the High Tech area, where Israel is a pioneer. In fact, you have recently spoken about the imminent start of a joint governmental project. What are the latest news in this area?
Immediately after my arrival, we inaugurated the Romania-Israel Partnership Accelerator project together with the Polytechnica University of Bucharest and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. A number of 20 students from both countries have been working together on providing customized solutions for local companies. Under the guidance of top mentors, entrepreneurs and industry specialists, the students are gaining a hands on experience in entrepreneurship, by developing solutions with real business feasibility. This is what we call economic diplomacy. Our goal is not for a party to sell to the other, our goal is to create partnerships. And this is what we are doing through this program, we create partnerships. Also, the 3rd edition of “ROMANIA – ISRAEL CYBER SECURITY FORUM” will be held between 5 – 6 of June 2019 in Bucharest, Romania. You will have the opportunity to see state of the art solutions from top Israeli Cyber security companies. The structure of the event consists in: 1 day of B2B meetings, demos and presentations and 1 day of training sessions held by the Israeli National Cyber Directorate. The event creates the hub for officials and executives from corporations, Government, the business sector and academia to get updated on the latest trends in cyber security. We have many things planned by the end of this year.
In the beginning of May, you participated together with Prime Minister Viorica Dancilă and a group of Romanian children, to the “International March of Living 2019” in Auschwitz and Birkenau, an occasion for the Head of Executive in Bucharest to reaffirm her Government’s continued commitment to the fight against anti-Semitism, highlighting the Romanian authorities’ efforts to commemorate and investigate the Holocaust as well as combating anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and xenophobia. What new initiatives in the domain will, in your opinion, contribute to strengthening these efforts to avoid repeating such painful experiences and mistakes of the past? Can you expand a little bit on the initiative to discover the descendants of Romanian families who sheltered, protected and saved the Jews in the dire years of the persecution? A project that will educate new generations with lessons of humanity and heroism, without expecting awards or recognition….
We have many projects with different high schools in Bucharest and around the country. For example, the latest one is dedicated to the ”Righteous Among the Nations” who are Romanian. Together with Laude-Reut Educational Complex and the Romanian ministry of Education we trying to find the relatives of those 65 Romanians (non-Jews) who are awarded with the ”Righteous Among the Nations” title because they put their lives in danger and those of their families to save thousands of Jews during the War . So, I take this opportunity to ask people who have information on this matter to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Besides that, we are working closely with the Romanian authorities which, during the last years introduced in schools the study of the Holocaust, for example. Education in this sense is the greatest tool to avoid forgetting and repeating this dark page of humanity.
If we are to make an exercise of imagination, in the sense that we’ll project ourselves in the future, in the reality of four years from now on, when you’ll end your diplomatic mandate here, how do you think it would sound your farewell video message? What words, what conclusion will prevail?
I believe that the end of my mandate will be in the same positive manner as when I arrived here recently. My connection with Romania will only grow stronger during my time here and Romanians will be in my heart forever. I will do my best to take the relationship between Israel and Romania to its highest peak so my work will focus on many fields in order to achieve that. You have a beautiful country, with great people and Israel is proud to have you as its very good friend.
In what concerns tolerance and harmony, considering your vast diplomatic experience and the lessons learned by Israel, a country that has been hard-pressed throughout the history by painful experiences, why do you think that in today’s world there are so many manifestations of hatred, materialized through wars and terrorist attacks that hit ruthlessly, without considering boundaries or logic? How can this spiral of hatred be stopped?
I am a diplomat who is very active on social media, activity which was embraced by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs since the beginning of the phenomena. But, unfortunately, one of the things which cause the speech of hatred and intolerance is precisely social media, since people or groups are looking to get attention and there is no mechanism to trace and stop or moderate that. While in the past, there was an entire mechanism to select content. You had a journalist, an editor, a professional, objective editor in chief, an institution which moderated all content. Nowadays, every person can be a ”journalist”, has access to all sorts of information and people who can be misleading and evil-minded.
What is the follow up of the April elections in Israel in what regards the prospects of building a lasting peace in the Middle East?
Unfortunately, I am not optimistic. First, since the Palestinian Authority is divided among themselves- with terror organization Hamas launching rockets – and President Abbas who, regrettably, is not willing to sit and negotiate. Secondly, they keep on paying to the families of the terrorists who killed Israelis. And third, they broke their relationship with the United States which was their only honest broker and they cannot control Hamas anymore. So, with whom can we sign an agreement?
Photo credit: Vali Mirea/BIZ