If you look at the diary of a diplomat, their lives are often very dry, yet very unpredictable. They meet with various individuals from other parts of the world, attend political meetings, go to geopolitical briefings, spend time in academia, attend business consultations, and take part in trade – among many other duties. Israel’s ex-Ambassador to the UK, Daniei Taub, spent many of his engagements and events observing the religious practices that you find on the Jewish calendar.
Taub believes that the land of Israel was founded as a homeland for the Jewish people. Nonetheless, his job is to represent all Israeli citizens, whether they are Jewish or not. Many people expect and want engagement with Israel to reflect the overall Jewish experience. When Taub looks at the Jewish calendar, he sees a host of opportunities for engagement, outreach, and talks which concern various Jewish traditions. One way he merged his diplomacy and his faith was during the month of December, where both Christmas and Hanukkah are observed.
When we speak of Hanukkah, we are supposed to recall the tensions between the ancient Greeks and the ancient Israelites. The ancient Greeks tried to impose Hellenistic ideologies throughout the vast Greek empire. Taub spoke to the Greek ambassador and explained that the Hanukkah festival commemorates the interface between ancient Israelite culture and ancient Greek culture. He suggested that an event could be organized in which Jewish And Greek historians could discuss what happened during those times and the implications of it today.
The event had catering dedicated to the best of both Greek and Israeli cuisine, and traditional Hanukkah lighting of candles was observed. This event was a great success for everyone, and since that time, Taub has proven other festivals are a great way to foster cooperation with various individuals and groups. During an event observing Passover, there was a conversation on the history surrounding it, commemorating the exodus of Jewish slaves from Egypt. It provided the foundation for various events focusing on social deprivation today, as well as issues with contemporary slavery.
A very unique opportunity arose during an event where the month of Ramadan fell on a Jewish fast day. Both Muslim and Jewish leaders were invited to break their individual fast together at Daniel Taub’s residence. Many Muslim leaders at this point have rarely stepped foot on Israeli territory. Taub reflected later that this occasion was very open and quite moving. He says that when you get into a setting where there are no distractions like cuisine, this can be a very intimate setting where discussions can take place. It offers you a special kind of atmosphere which is quite different from usual diplomatic discussions in traditional political arenas.
There are challenges to consider when holding events during fasts and various festivals because they are all done differently. There are certain religious dietary restrictions that must be considered and various logistics which need to be addressed. During these events, there needs to be time for people to observe certain practices according to various customs. Outsiders may find it difficult to understand the workings of a certain faith. if you invite people from a certain sector, there may be discomfort with other members of the community that are not used to seeing these individuals. Taub does grant that investment in these events is a worthwhile endeavor – even if you have to work through certain difficulties. He says that individuals appreciate whatever efforts you make when you consider their practices and take their needs into account. In some cases, you might not hit all the required marks, but you can still work through these difficulties in a way others will notice. Some people attending these events may be quite nervous, or they might do something offensive or inappropriate out of ignorance, but it is possible to work through these difficulties with groups of individuals so that everyone enjoys the event on a general level.
The Torah can also be used to help bridge different nationalities and cultures. Taub has engaged in cross-analysis between the Torah and the New Testament. He often reaches out to churches to share Jewish understanding of various texts within the faith. He was invited to address the Synod of the Church of England. He began his lecture with a quick course on the Torah, emphasizing the need for an understanding and a reading of the Hebrew language. He then looked at several biblical passages which showed that an understanding of the original Hebrew text gives added insights and depth to the text in its modern English translation. He made it a point to express the fact that identities have been shaped by these various texts. He says sharing our traditions and studying these texts together can be a great experience. The most revealing moments come from understanding our various differences, which works better than simply agreeing on what we have in common. He encourages that we see our perspectives on faith in an uncommon, yet universal light.
Taub also held various meetings with Palestinians and served on Israeli negotiation teams. As he looked back on this period, he concluded that if there was more emphasis on addressing religious identity directly, it might have played a more positive role in the meetings. He argues that the negotiation teams were led almost exclusively by westernized intellectuals on both sides of the table. He noticed one of the things the two sides agreed upon was that they had to keep religious leaders out of the negotiations. He explained that fear hampered an introduction of various issues of religious faith into the negotiations; doing so, in their view, would make it difficult to resolve conflicts. He said at the time, that this would be the case, even if the participants were moderately religious. There was also the concern that Salafists and Zionists would effectively reverse progress that may have been made between the moderates. He has since redacted the concern, saying that it might have been a mistake not to include religious leaders into debates and discussions. According to Taub, you can’t keep faith outside the door because it’s already inside. You need to admit this and address it in constructive ways.
Taub strongly believes that you need to connect with the peoples in these two states; ultimately, this is at the root of diplomacy. Interfaith study might be more important for diplomats than we realize. By examining the roots of religious practices, we can build better bridges between various cultures and religious faiths. It may be time for diplomats to look at the language of religion and use this in the diplomatic process later on.
Read more about Daniel Taub here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/8833883/Gilad-Shalits-return-is-a-testament-to-Israels-love-of-life.html