H.E. Anna Azari

“The Czech Republic is the friendliest country for Israel in Europe”

H.E. Anna Azari, Ambassador of Israel

Text: Martina Hošková and M. Zisso; Photo: Karel Cudlín

Mrs. Anna Azari was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, and immigrated to Israel with her family in 1972. She has been with the Israeli Foreign Service since 1983. After two years of working as an Ambassador in Prague, she talked to us about the gradual steps on the path that brought her here, the challenges she has encountered along the way, and how the reality of our country took her by surprise.

How do you become an ambassador in Israel?

You don’t become an ambassador. You become a cadet in a cadet course, which is the gateway to our foreign service. To get into the cadet course, you need to pass the entrance exam. If I wanted to be a bit cheeky, I would say that to pass the entrance exam you have to know that it is actually taking place. In this particular instance, I was lucky. I learned about it thanks to my husband, who saw an advertisement – probably a leaflet at that time – published by the MFA, and thought it would be just the right thing for me.

I went for it, and it turned out to be the first step that embarked me on the path that has led me to many interesting places, meeting some great and some peculiar people, and eventually presented me with the opportunity to serve as an ambassador here, in Prague, in the Czech Republic.

You have been in the Czech Republic for two years. Can you share some of your impressions?

If you are asking about my first impressions of the Czech Republic, these actually precede my posting here by quite some time. I knew the country from both my previous post as Deputy Director General of my ministry’s section for Europe, and from my time as an Ambassador to Poland.

That is why it is not a coincidence that I came to be posted here. You could say I deliberately chose it. Why? The Czech Republic is the friendliest country for Israel in Europe – in this respect, not just my first impression but my ongoing experience here is a testimony to that. No, scratch that, my first impression did not just fulfill my expectations, the reality surprised me because it is even friendlier than I expected.

H.E. Anna Azari, Ambassador of Israel

How many countries have you served in besides the Czech Republic?

Five. My first posting abroad was a Consul of Israel to the Pacific Northwest in San Francisco, in the United States. After that, a very interesting post opened in our embassy in Russia in mid-1990s. People realized that I spoke fluent Russian, and that was one of the reasons why I was appointed Deputy Ambassador to Russia. After that, I knew where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to become an Ambassador of Israel to Russia. And it happened. After serving as an Ambassador to Ukraine and Moldova,

I returned to Russia as an Ambassador. After that came Poland, and now the Czech Republic.

How does being an ambassador fit your lifestyle?

I have been doing it all my life. I do not actually know how NOT being an ambassador could fit into my lifestyle. It is a complicated story. This is my sixth round of duty abroad. When my children were little, and since my husband did not join me except for my first posting in San Francisco, it was a complicated game each time. I served with two children and my husband was at home, then one child was with me and one child was in Israel. We tried all the options by now. However, the situation is solved now because both children are now grown up, and I even have one granddaughter. But it is a challenge to keep a family in this line of work, that’s for sure.

Do you see any other difficulties as part of being an ambassador?

I don’t find the job of an ambassador to be all that difficult, if compared to many other jobs such as mining or something of that kind. Probably – and I am not very good at it – the most difficult thing is to not react implicitly when you hear nonsense being voiced on either side of the negotiating table.

What is the best adventure you have had while performing your diplomatic duties?

Since I served in several Slavic countries, one of my biggest adventures had to do with the quantity of alcohol which I could consume at any given time.

I remember several stories. But one of the most intense ones was when the Head of the Office of our then Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, came to visit in Ukraine. It was in Crimea in the summer. After meeting President Kuchma, we had lunch with the head of the then Head of Security Services, who kept offering toasts. But the Israeli guest said that he was not drinking as his wife does not allow it. So, in the heat of thirty-odd degrees, I had to drink an endless number of toasts to the health of Kuchma, the health of Barak, the health of the Security Service of Ukraine, and the health of the Mossad… And then, when we arrived at the airport, the whole thing started all over again.

Asking the next question may feel a bit funny considering your previous story. However, can you give a piece of advice to the next generation of ambassadors?

When they are ambassadors, they usually no longer need advice, or they at least don’t think that they need it. However, for people who want to get there, who are not ambassadors yet, the main issue is to know where you are going. I think that when you build some kind of plan for yourself – and when you know what the next steps are leading to, and where you want to be – then it is easier to get there.

For ambassadors, one of the best parts of their job is that you can exercise a lot of influence on the way you would perform your own job. If you like archaeology, you will probably promote archaeological relations or exhibitions. If you are into education, you can promote that. The really nice touch of the job is that you can bring your own personality into it. A common notion regarding diplomats is that we are always under instructions. It is not true.

Only a very low percentage of what we do follows direct instructions.

Do you promote your country as an attractive holiday destination to Czech tourists?

Nowadays, the promotion of tourism is highly dependent on your financial budget and frequency of advertising yourself. I don’t think Israel invests too much into that in the Czech Republic. However, I think this beautiful tradition of relations between our countries makes Israel quite attractive for the Czech people. Even those who haven’t been (to Israel) very often want to go there. The real challenge is that Israel has become quite expensive. Every cloud has a silver lining though, and right now the exchange rate of the Israeli Shekel has decreased a bit, which should make it a bit less expensive for tourists. So, I hope that the Czechs are going to take advantage of this situation and come.

Did the recent events and the demonstrations affect the relations between the two countries?

The relations are very good. We had the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs visiting here just before Passover or Easter. The relations are good. I hope other visits will follow. At this point, there is no reason for the demonstrations to affect the relations. They were widely covered here, but I do not see a real influence on everyday diplomacy.

This interview is done on the occasion of the National Day of Israel – the 75th anniversary of its independence. What are you wishing for your country? And for the Czech Republic?

For my country, it is always the same wish: peace. This year, we can add that we want peace internally and externally. Peace and democracy for my country. And I think it would be a nice wish for the Czech Republic as well – peace and democracy – because there’s a war in Europe and we hope it will end well for Ukraine, with a big victory, and this would also be good for the Czech Republic.