How does the Israeli Embassy’s deputy feel about returning to Israel, family in tow, as rockets and bullets fly on the western edge of his small country?
“You would be surprised, but we feel great. Because we are going back home,” Eliaz Luf told Embassy during an interview just a week before he was due to finish his Canadian posting at the end of July.
“I shouldn’t say that we are used to those things, but I think when you are born in Israel, you get some kind of immunity and perspective about it. If a siren would be on in Ottawa, people wouldn’t be able to sleep for the next month, because they have never heard such a thing,” he said.
In Israel, “it’s part of the reality,” he said, adding the latest round of fighting in and around Gaza should end “as soon as possible.”
As they’ve waited for an end to the violence, Mr. Luf and his colleagues have been busy playing the role of crisis communicators with the Canadian government and media. They’ve tried to explain what’s happening in Israel and Gaza, how the Israeli government has appraised the situation and how it intends to respond, he said.
Amidst hourly coverage of the conflict, Mr. Luf said he has worked hard “to make people see that Israel is not only conflicts and wars.”
That task is a more typical example of Mr. Luf’s work over the past four years, he said, which has centred on bringing Canadian and Israeli businesses and government agencies closer together and “educating” Canadians about his country.
There has been an “unprecedented increase” in the ties between the two countries during his tenure, he said. Many of those connections were facilitated by the embassy, though not all of them garnered much attention outside of its walls, such as public safety working groups or bilateral agreements between national research institutes.
“It’s something that is less sexy, it’s not on TV and it’s not even in the media, but those are the little things that make relations strong,” he said.
Modern dips no longer mere messengers
Connecting key personnel in each country, then letting them communicate on their own, is the sort of work that has become a staple of modern diplomacy, Mr. Luf said. The age of delivering messages from one leader to another is gone, thanks to advances in communications technology that allow leaders and their staff to communicate in multiple ways at a moment’s notice, without relying on their embassies.
Instead of working to maintain relations, diplomats are increasingly working to expand them by connecting the government, private sector and academia in each country, he said.
Mr. Luf counts state visits by Israeli president Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2012 as two of the highlights of his time in Ottawa. Embassy staff worked closely with Canadian authorities, including the RCMP, to plan the visits down to the smallest detail.
“Everything was by the book,” he said.
As is the norm, a special security team from Israel visited Canada in advance of Mr. Netanyahu’s visit in March of that year to co-ordinate with Canadian counterparts, he said.
Security certainly was tight during the visit, prompting a complaint from Canadian NDP member of Parliament Pat Martin that it restricted the movement of MPs in and around Parliament. House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer ruled later that month that there were sufficient grounds for Mr. Martin to ask the House procedure committee to study the matter.
Mr. Luf said he was grateful for the chance to contribute to the “flowering” of relations between Canada and Israel. Support for Israel from the Canadian government is perhaps stronger than it has ever been, and even the occasional criticisms from opposition parties have always been part of an “intelligent discussion,” he said.
Ottawa has been a haven from the “hostile environments” to which Israeli diplomats must routinely be posted, particularly for his family, he said.
“Diplomatic life is a package deal. It’s not just yourself, it’s your family that is going with you, and I think their happiness is very important to any diplomat,” he said.
“It makes it much easier for us, the diplomats, to actually dedicate ourselves to work, and not to be worried about the kids and wife.”
Returning to their family home in Modi’in, a suburb between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, will be an adjustment for Mr. Luf’s two sons, aged 14 and 11, he said, though it will offer them a chance to see their grandparents for the first time in two years.
The youngest, who was just seven years old when he came to Canada, may need more time to adjust, though he has remained fluent in Hebrew during his time here. The oldest may need to get creative to find common ground with his old friends in Israel, Mr. Luf said.
“I tried to explain to him that no one in Israel talks about hockey.
He said, ‘No, I will find someone.’”