Israel’s Foreign Ministry has appointed a Druse Arab poet as ambassador to Oslo and named an Arab career diplomat as his deputy, as part of an uphill battle to win over Norwegian public opinion, largely critical of Israel.
Naim Araidi, 62, a former Haifa and Bar Ilan University lecturer who writes in both Arabic and Hebrew, confirmed his appointment on Israel Radio’s Arabic service on Wednesday. Mr Araidi will be joined by George Deek, a Christian Arab from Jaffa who is currently deputy ambassador to Nigeria.
He noted that the number three at the Oslo embassy, Revital Ben-Naim, is Jewish.
"It will help us greatly that the Israeli embassy is composed of all communities and religions as a reflection of real co-existence between Arabs and Jews in Israel," Mr Araidi said.
He added that the diverse team comprised "a beautiful picture, putting forward the civilised, democratic face of Israel."
The poet, originally tipped to become Israel’s envoy to New Zealand, observed: "I personally go with a cultural and literary mission which will have a big role in strengthening relations between Israel and Norway."
Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Paul Hirschson played down the significance of two Arabs being sent to Oslo when there is an overall shortage of Arab representation in the ministry.
"This is nothing special. A citizen is a citizen." But he added: "We have issues in the public sphere in Norway and hopefully this will have a positive spin-off effect."
Roger Hercz, Israel correspondent of the Norwegian daily, Dagsavisen, said: “The Foreign Ministry may have concluded that an Arab ambassador saying Israel is not so bad could be more convincing than a Jewish one."