Ambassador Raphael Morav is a career diplomat who has served Israel for the past 30 years on the diplomatic front. He is now assigned to serve as the Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia, Burundi, and Rwanda residing in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia is Morav’s second assignment in the African continent next to Liberia. After Liberia, he moved to Brussels to be among the first Israeli diplomats to deal with European Union (EU) affairs since the Union was a new introduction to the global political map at the time. Morav also served his country in multiple positions in different countries including Italy, Finland, and France. Neamin Ashenafi of The Reporter sat down with the newly-appointed ambassador to discuss a range of issues including the Ethio-Israeli bilateral ties, the issue of Jerusalem and African refugees in Israel. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Given the fact that Ethiopia and Israel have a long-standing diplomatic relationship, which is bounded by history, culture, and many other aspects, how do you evaluate the current status of this relation and cooperation between the two countries?
Ambassador Raphael Morav: I think the relation is at a very good stage. But we are always aiming high; in fact, Ethiopia is the biggest recipient of Israeli aid in Africa, and one of the biggest in the world. Our program of cooperation on development is focused on agriculture – nurseries of the avocado plant in particularly – but we also cooperate on irrigation and many other projects. Now we have started to install solar pumping irrigation systems in different locations, and we wish to partner with the Ethiopian government in its program to irrigate big parts of its arable lands. Beyond agriculture, we have cooperation in the field of health, through the NGOs that are active in various hospitals, here. We are also working in the field of education. However, we are open to cooperate in any field that the Government of Ethiopia sees fit and that will correspond to our mutual interest. Basically, we see ourselves as a partner in the strategic development goals of the Government of Ethiopia.
You have said that the relationship is good but needs to aim high. However, there are groups who argue that the relations between the two countries did not grow to the expected level, especially, in terms of trade and investment. What is your say in this regard?
I do not agree with such kinds of comments. First of all, there are two types of cooperation: there is cooperation in development like I have already discussed but we are also working hard on bringing Israeli investors to Ethiopia. This is more of a private initiative and, as a government, we are not going to do business here but we will give the umbrella for the investors to work in Ethiopia in collaboration with the Ethiopian government. We want to convey a message to Israeli investors and businesses that there is a friendly business environment in Ethiopia and business is doable in Ethiopia. But, we need more success stories regarding Israeli companies working in Ethiopia in order to get the momentum going; that’s what I am working at these days.
Can you please specifically point out the strategic areas of the cooperation between the two countries?
Well, the strategic areas are basically sectors where Israel enjoys competitive advantage in and which is also relevant to the Ethiopian needs; so it must be demand driven. We are not going to impose or to offer something that Ethiopia does not need. In this respect, I think that we follow the strategic development plans and programs of the Ethiopian government, which mainly focus on the agricultural sector. Our aim is to bring agriculture to higher technological levels in this country through irrigation, quality seeds, better pest control and all better methods of cultivation. Of course, the government has industrialization programs and I think we could also contribute to transforming the agricultural sector to an agro-mechanical sector. Renewable energy is also one of the strategic goals of the government and we already have several projects in the pipeline in this regard.
Senior officials at your Ministry of Foreign Affairs told African journalists, who were visiting Israel recently, that Israel is willing and wants to help African countries in the areas of strengthening peace and security; one area your country seems to have the know-how, the technology and the experience. Therefore, is it possible to regard the issue of security as one of the strategic areas of cooperation with Ethiopia?
I am not aware of that. We are trying to establish a dialogue between security establishments and security industries of both countries in order to explore possibilities of cooperation in the field. I think both countries are living in a challenging environment and we face the same problems such as terrorism. There might be the need to have cooperation in terms of upgrading certain systems in the security establishments. So, these areas need to be explored with the government. However, we wish to engage in dialogue with the Government of Ethiopia exactly on that, because, as you said it, we have the experience, the know-how, technology and willingness to offer all this to Ethiopia; but like I said it has to be demand driven. Therefore, we have to engage in this kind of dialogue where we see how we can work together in a manner that can benefit both sides.
The recent decision by the president of the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel brought much controversy throughout the world and, many countries in the world voted against the resolution presented at the UN Security Council including Ethiopia. What is your reaction towards Ethiopia’s position?
Well, I must say that we felt deceived and disappointed. Over thirty countries at the UN did not support this resolution and out of this, 16 countries are from Africa. So, we did not see the reason why Ethiopia would not be among the 16 or the 17 countries to vote in support of the resolution. We also thought that not only because of the excellent bilateral relation but also in terms of the reciprocity for our support to Ethiopia for its candidacy to the membership of the UN Security Council we expected support for our cause. As you know, we were among the first countries to express our support for Ethiopia’s candidacy for UNSC. Again, when Ethiopia presented its candidate for the directorship to the World Health Organization (WHO), although there were good candidates from very friendly countries we decided to support Ethiopia first. Therefore, we were expecting that there would be reciprocity on that, when we asked for the support of Ethiopia regarding the resolution.
So you feel betrayed?
No, I did not say betrayed but disappointed. It is certainly not betrayed, it is rather, a deception and of course this disappointed us. I have expressed this to the officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia. They are well aware of this position but life has to go on. Nothing will change on the ground in Jerusalem; it (Jerusalem) remains to be the capital of Israel.
Right after the resolution presented by the US at the UN was rejected by many member countries; the US warned that it will cut aid both to the UN itself and to the countries that stood against the resolution. Therefore, given the fact that Ethiopia is the one of the biggest recipient of aid from Israel in Africa, are you considering a similar measure?
Definitely not! Because we consider our relationship with Ethiopia to be far more important; we have a lot of common interests and even if we disagree, we will work in the future to correct that. Generally speaking, I don’t believe in sanctions. So, the issue of cutting aid is not on the table.
Israel has decided to deport African refugees and it has issued an ultimatum to that effect urging refugees to leave the country or face legal actions. Why is that so necessary to deport these refugees at this point in time?
Well, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and we were open for the immigration of the Jews to the country. At the same time, yes, we had some illegal immigrants coming to Israel. Many of them came for economic reasons and not for real political asylum. But, of course, if there are some who are looking get political asylum, we have a policy on that as well which is in line with the general international rules. But in most of the cases, it is not the case.
Similarly, there are so many accusations against the Israeli government that the government is systematically sidelining Ethiopian Jews who are residing in Israel. There are some who even go as far as accusing the government of racist tendencies and systematic marginalization. What is your reaction to such criticisms?
This is totally wrong. For the first generation, there were difficulties of integrating into the society because of the language barrier, cultural differences, and mentality. But, this applies to all Jewish Diaspora returnees: be it from Ethiopia, US, Russia or France. However, if you look at the current situation in Israel, there is this young generation of Ethiopians born in Israel and they integrated very well into the Israeli society, in the schooling system and so on. So, today, it is a normal process of integration and it is not an issue anymore. It was an issue when they arrived due to the big cultural gaps, but for the new generation born in Israel, it is not an issue.