From a tent in Galilee to a diplomatic career: the opposite ends of a nomadic spectrum

The Bedouin whose roots make him the perfect diplomat

By Daniel Easterman, June 26, 2014
Ishmail Khaldi

Ishmail Khaldi

Ishmail Khaldi is a diplomat who likes to keep a low profile.

Throughout the 27 months he has been working at the Israeli embassy in London, his name has rarely appeared in the British media, and, by his own admission, he has had only limited contact with the Jewish community.

Even when pressed, Mr Khaldi, who became the first Bedouin Arab to join Israel's diplomatic corps in 2004, insists on playing down his achievement.

"It is true that it was a long path from growing up in a tent to making it all the way to be an Israeli diplomat," he said. "But it proves there is equality in our country."

Growing up in a traditional nomadic community in Galilee, Mr Khaldi's greatest aspiration was simply to be a father. But after the sudden death of a friend, his view changed. "I was in Tel Aviv finishing my masters degree," he recalled. "I heard that one of my best friends was killed while carrying out his service as a border police officer. It was then that I said to myself, as a Bedouin I have the ability and the right to represent my country to the world."

After a posting in San Francisco, and serving as a senior adviser on Arab affairs to Avigdor Lieberman, he was dispatched to London as counsellor for civil society affairs, tasked with strengthening ties between British charities and trade unions and their Israeli counterparts

He admits that his experience as an Israeli diplomat has at times been frustrating.

"Both here and in San Francisco people kept asking me: 'Really? Is it true you are a Bedouin? How can you represent Israel if you are not Jewish'. Sadly enough, it taught me how little people know about Israel. They know about the political conflict, but they never hear about our diverse society."

Mr Khaldi is most animated when discussing the pro-Palestinian campaigners he has encountered in the UK. In 2011, he was forced to abandon a speaking engagement after being continuously interrupted by protestors from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

"Not allowing me to speak - that is not respect or hospitality in the best traditions of British society," he said.

Mr Khaldi's background was at least in one way the perfect preparation for the diplomat corps. "Being nomadic is in our blood. I need to keep moving, so the foreign service has been a good choice."

Last updated: 1:21pm, June 26 2014