Iton Gadol covered B’nai B’rith interviewing Israeli Ambassador to Mexico, Zvi Tal for its “Lens on Latin America” series, hosted by Director for Latin American Affairs Eduardo Kohn and Special Advisor on Latin American and U.N. Affairs Adriana Camisar.
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and Mexico, B’nai B’rith International interviewed the Israeli ambassador to that country, Zvi Tal, for its “Lens in Latin America” series.
The program’s introduction was made by Adriana Camisar, advisor to B’nai B’rith International for Latin American affairs. She was joined by Eduardo Kohn, B’nai B’rith director for Latin American affairs.
Kohn thanked the ambassador and expressed that it was a pleasure to talk to him, since “Mexico is an extremely important country in the region, undoubtedly one of the great powers of Latin America from every point of view, with a vast and rich history and culture and with an important and vibrant Jewish community. So it seemed important to us [B’nai B’rith] not only to mark this 70th anniversary in diplomatic relations between Israel and Mexico.
For her part, Adriana Camisar asked the ambassador: Since Mexico is his first diplomatic destination in Latin America, how was his experience so far in such an important country in the region, with such a rich and unique culture?
Amb. Tal: It’s true, previously my entire career had been in Europe. I was born in Antwerp, Belgium, and I was four times as an ambassador in Europe, twice in Brussels, the first at the Embassy of Belgium and Luxembourg and the second as deputy head of mission to the European Union. I was also in Rome at the Embassy in front of the Holy See, and my last position was in Paris.
Being in the region is a discovery for me, the whole issue of the relationship between Israel and Latin America, especially with the relationship with Mexico, a great country. I had visited Mexico professionally in 1999 as a member of the delegation on the free trade agreement, and I had also visited the country as a young man, because I have an important part of my family in Mexico City. Culture and behavior are totally different from what I was used to. I was immediately delighted with the moods and the way of being of the Mexicans.
It is an enriching experience without a doubt.
Due to the 70 years of relations, we created a group of Israeli mariachis, called Mariachis Ierushalaim, who recently participated in the Mariachis Festival in Guadalajara. They sing in Spanish, since the founding nucleus of the group is made up of Israeli citizens with Latin roots.
Eduardo Kohn: What analysis do you make of the advances in commercial, scientific, technological and cultural exchange in recent years between Israel and Mexico?
Amb. Tal: Five months ago we surpassed the billion dollar mark in commercial exchange between our countries. The added value that Israel offers to Mexico as an innovative technological powerhouse, in a market as large and diversified as Mexico, is a very successful combination.
For example, in the automotive sector, which has a lot of tradition in Mexico and not so much in Israel, although we have the technology and we provide it. The same happens in the mining sector, very important in Mexico, which uses Israeli technology in the field of water and is relevant to the sector. We had seminars and virtual meetings from companies to companies to present technical solutions to the challenges faced by these industries. In the field of ecosystems we are also working and collaborating, in fact we did it with young Israeli and Mexican entrepreneurs with the collaboration of Start Up Mexico and Israeli tutors, so that young people propose solutions to large companies here in Mexico, and it was a very successful project with which we are going to continue and we would like to expand.
The economic and commercial component is fundamental. But, for me as an ambassador, it is also important to bring civil society, the peoples, and we do it through the academic world. In a few weeks there will be two delegations from Monterrey in Israel, one to further diversify the contacts and agreements they have with universities in Israel, and the other delegation focused on what is the technological application that researchers develop in Israeli universities.
In other words, there is an important approach to integration, which is our model, the integration between academia and the business world, the private sector. There is also the cultural theme that is very important to us, to discover the Israeli or Mexican reality through artistic expressions. The same goes for archaeology and many other aspects.
A.C.: Beyond the progress in different areas in bilateral matters, these good relations at the bilateral level do not necessarily move to the multilateral level because Mexico has been – and continues to be – a severe critic of Israel both in the U.N. and in other international organizations, even when it comes to very extreme and absurd resolutions against Israel. Do you think there may be a change in this regard in the near future?
Amb. Tal: I’m skeptical in that sense. For many decades, Mexico has unfortunately voted in favor of these resolutions related to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. At least we have had dialogues on the issue of the United Nations and other organizations, a bilateral dialogue in which we try to present the Israeli case, the fact that it is discrimination against Israel compared to other places of conflict where so many members of the United Nations do not respect human rights.
In the last two years it was very difficult, since Mexico served for the fifth time as a member of the Security Council on the one hand and as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the other. We continue talking but unfortunately I do not have good news, although I prefer to look at the part that is less than half of the full glass, in which we have collaborations with the missions of Mexico in New York and Geneva on issues of mutual importance such as the empowerment of women, the issue of people with disabilities and lately the issue of psychological treatment of the UN forces, which are deployed.
At least, as I said, we have dialogue, even in the last mission organized by our ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, Mexico’s ambassador Juan Manuel de la Fuente returned saying that he now understands the complexity of the conflict, although his interventions in the debates in the Security Council are still not so balanced.
E.K.: It was two years since the Abraham Accords, which marked a new era of coexistence in the Middle East. Do you think that the commercial, economic and technological effects of the agreements may transcend beyond the Middle East itself and the bilateral relations or the group of countries that signed these agreements? Could they impact any Latin American country?
Zvi: Yes, I think so. I’m going to give you an example. We had an initiative with the Embassy of Morocco, participating in a project called Green Challenge, a deforestation project in Mexico City. Together with the local president of the KKL we planted trees as part of the project and launched a message of coexistence and collaboration on a priority issue for everyone today, such as the environmental issue.
We also participated in a meeting called COMEX, to talk about the new paradigm in the Middle East and the possibility of collaborating focusing on the needs and remains of peoples and nations in the region, without neglecting the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Because it must be resolved without transforming it into the condition to achieve progress in relations and normalization in the relationship between Israel and other nations in the Middle East.
I think we have examples of the possibilities that can be achieved when politicians decide to open a new chapter in the relationship, but also in the economic sphere by going through the streets in Mexico City you can see these promotions of the Emirates airline, promoting flights from Mexico to Tel Aviv and from Tel Aviv to Dubai.
So in the new geographical reality there are different possibilities at a tourist and economic level. Israel and the United Arab Emirates are Mexico’s major trading partners and I am convinced that new opportunities are opening up.
To see the full interview, click here.