Arab who is a diplomat for Israel


George Deek is different from most Israeli diplomats. The country’s foreign ministry is full of high-flyers snapped up at a young age, but very few are Arabs.

Mr Deek, who joined the diplomatic corps at the tender age of 25, sees no contradiction in someone with Arab roots representing Israel.

“At 14, I went to a Jewish school and as the only Arab in my class I became the voice of the Palestinians. But just like my classmates were listening to me, I was also listening to them.

“It felt natural to speak up for Arabs but it felt natural to speak up for Jews. We share common fears and goals,” he said.

The envoy, who is deputy ambassador to Norway, made his first official visit to London last week where he was guest of honour at the first annual reception of pro-Israel grassroots group StandWithUs UK.

Mr Deek had started out as a lawyer but decided his heart was not in the law, and changed course.

He told the JC that he had had to overcome a stigma against Arab-Israelis which many thought would hurt his prospects. “I saw the advert and applied, but I had no idea about diplomacy. My motivation only grew higher when people said: ‘There’s no way they’re going to accept an Arab, and one who never went to the army.’

“When people said I couldn’t do it, I wanted to even more. I saw it as my job to break glass ceilings. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Mr Deek, who is from a Christian background, said his grandparents had inspired him to build bridges with his Jewish compatriots. He recalled how they escaped to Lebanon during the War of Independence was declared in 1948. “When the war was over, my grandparents realised they’d been deceived. The Arabs didn’t win, and at the same time, the Jews didn’t kill all the Arabs. My grandpa looked at his newborn son and his wife — who was still only 17 — and realised they had a destiny awaiting them, a tragic one, of becoming Palestinian refugees.”

Instead of accepting his status as a victim and wallowing in grief, Mr Deek related how his grandfather took the braver path of illegally re-entering Israel.

“When they got there, my grandpa did an amazing thing: he came and lived among his enemies and made them his friends. They worked hard, raised a family, and built a future in the state of Israel.

“The reason I’m speaking to you as an Israeli diplomat and not a Palestinian refugee is that my grandparents saw the future clearly and chose hope over despair,” said Mr Deek.

It is perhaps little wonder that Mr Deek, who grew up in Jaffa, in a building with Muslim, Catholic, Jewish and Catholic-Jewish neighbours — “one was a Catholic priest who was a Jew saved in Poland and had a Talmud next to his Bible” — puts his faith in multiculturalism.

And now he warns that if there is no change in what he calls “an increasingly hostile atmosphere” in the Middle East, “hate will destroy us”.

He said: “The biggest challenge the Arab world is facing is that it’s moving from a place of diversity to a place of uniformity, from a place where we had Kurds and Yazidis and Jews to a place where people are hostile to each other just because they’re different.

“Today, this is a tragedy. Yazidis are being tortured and raped in Iraq, the last church in Afghanistan was destroyed in 2010, and others are being persecuted across the region.”

Mr Deek’s solution to the rise of the terrorist organisation Islamic State and widespread terror centres on Israel, which he says must — above all other goals — maintain its democratic values.

“Israel is important, not just for the Jewish world but also the Arab world. While Muslims are being kicked out by each other, Israel is the only minority in the region which keeps hope alive for the Arab world. As long as Israel exists, there is a chance we can move back from uniformity to diversity.

“That is entrenched in the fate of all minorities in the region. This is the main importance of Israel today.”
He said the principles he learned from his grandparents can also end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There’s no doubt that what happened in 1948 was devastating for Palestinians. They got pushed out of their homes, suffered an immense loss and were scattered around the world. The question is: how do we deal with this tragedy?

“When a group defines itself as victims, it is no longer held accountable for terrible crimes. Like when people justify terrorism, saying it’s simply a response. This is a tragic perspective.

“The only way to mend the past is to build a future, and the only way to do that is to invest in education, the economy and our children, to make a place which we can all proudly call home.”

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