Interview with Ambassador of Israel to Thailand, H.E. Dr. Meir Shlomo

by Expat Life
H.M.Dr.Meir Shlomo

Expat Life sat down with the Israeli Ambassador to find out about his appointment to Thailand and his route to the post.

with Prime minister of Thailand

How long have you been the Ambassador to Thailand?

I assumed the role of Ambassador of Israel to the Kingdom of Thailand in August 2017 and presented my credentials to His Majesty the King in November. I am also non-resident Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Did you arrive to Thailand from home, or were you posted somewhere else before?

Yes, I came direct from Israel. My first overseas posting was as Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Israel in El Salvador. Before that I was also posted in Peru, Denmark and India. I was appointed as Consul General and Head of Mission in Boston, Massachusetts in the USA. Later, I was Consul General and Head of the Israeli Mission in Houston, Texas. After obtaining a PhD in History and Communications, I became Head of the North American Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, prior to my current post in Thailand.

Sawasdee Krab

Where were you born and brought up?

I was born and raised in Tel Aviv in 1954. My grandparents came to Jerusalem in 1927 from Aden which was later called the Democratic Republic of South Yemen. Both of my parents were born in Israel. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Tel Aviv University and my Master’s in Mass Communications from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  

At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat?

That was probably after I completed my three year military service and backpacked around Asia with my girlfriend who later became my wife. After returning to Israel and resuming my studies, I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in November 1981. 

Do you have more diplomats in your family?

No only me. 

How do you look at Thailand today? Have you had any obstacles since you arrived?

I first came to Thailand in 1980 and spent two months here. I have been drawn back a few times since my first trip. In 2009, I was invited by the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs to conduct a workshop on public diplomacy. At that time, I was impressed at the flourishing Bangkok that has become an international city and it’s progressive changes. The skyline is amazing and getting better everyday. This country is moving forward in all aspects towards Thailand 4.0. 40 years has passed but the wonderful Thai hospitality extended to my wife and I has not changed. 

Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand?

Yes, I think that the warmth of the people towards each other and the way that they treat foreigners is quite similar. Israelis are well known for their warmth and openness towards foreigners, and Thai people are in many ways the same. Other than that, I think that both societies are blessed with hardworking and dedicated people, who are passionate about their country and their fellow citizens.  

with his wife

Do you and your wife have children? If so what age are they and where do they go to school?

Yes, we have a son I do and a daughter Noa who just got married last year. They are both grown up and now my son is a big-data scientist in the USA and my daughter works in hi-tech in Israel. Neither of them has followed in my footsteps in diplomacy.

How do you look upon your work here? What does an average day look like?

Our work covers so many dimensions, to name a few, politics, economics, culture, media and social issues. There is never a dull moment at our Embassy. Still, it does not stop us enjoying every task that we aim to achieve. A normal day – there is never a normal day, may include a political briefing to learn about recent developments in Thailand. It may also include a meeting with Thai senior government officials or captains of industry from the business sector to promote our cooperation through the government. For example, I just met a delegation from Chulabhorn International College of Medicine at Thammasat University who are travelling to Israel this week to learn about the emergency medicine model which we operate in Israel. It often includes meetings with other foreign Ambassador’s, politicians, journalists, decision makers and heads of cultural institutions.         

meeting

As every Ambassador, I assume you have some goals you really would like to reach/fulfil before you leave Thailand. What are they?

It is our aim to increase tourism, bilateral trade, investment, innovation and the exchange of technology. We always have a large number of Israeli tourists in Thailand, but sadly we do not see that many Thai tourists travel to and enjoy Israel. It is a beautiful country located in the Middle East on the Mediterranean Sea. It is regarded by Jews, Christians and Muslims as the biblical Holy Land. Its most sacred sites are in Jerusalem. Within its Old City, the Temple Mount complex includes the Dome of the Rock shrine, the historic Western Wall, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Israel’s financial hub, Tel Aviv, is known for its Bauhaus architecture and beaches. It has a population of just over 9 million now.

The majority of the Thai people that travel to Israel are the 25,000 workers who work in the agricultural sector. We highly value their hard work and dedication, and we know that when they return to Thailand they will have accumulated not only a lot of practical knowledge in advanced agriculture techniques, but also, that they get to know Israel so well, that we consider them as “Ambassadors of goodwill”.  However, we would love to see more Thai people coming to Israel as tourists. Therefore, it leads me to one of my ultimate goals – that is to see Thai Airways flying direct to Israel. I believe that it would introduce and deliver the Thais to Israel and will eventually bring the people of both countries closer together and fulfil all of my aforementioned ambitions.

at National Park

Have you been travelling around in Thailand?

I am very lucky to have the opportunity to visit many other provinces for both work and pleasure. I have travelled to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Pai-Mae Hong Son, Kanchanaburi, Koh Kood, Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi, Ko Pha Ngan, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phuket, etc., and, we are not done yet. I am always greeted with warmth and respect wherever I go and I am very thankful to the Thai people for their kindness and hospitality.

Until now, your favourite destination in Thailand?

For me, Thailand is not so much great beach and islands – it is about the people. The Thai people are the greatest asset of Thailand and the way they treat you is what really conveys an amazing experience.

When and if, you have a day off, what do you prefer to do? Do you have any special hobbies?

Travelling, travelling and travelling…..

How many of your countryfolk are resident in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?

There are few hundred Israelis living here year round, not only in Bangkok but also in other provinces across the country. Thailand is a fascinating country for tourists from all over the world and a very attractive destination for Israelis since the 1990s when the first flight of El Al Israel’s flag carrier landed in Bangkok. Now El Al operates seven flights a week. We also have another three flights a week by Arkia, the second airline. Indeed Thailand is, the second most popular destination in the world for Israeli travellers. Over 200,000 Israelis visit Thailand every year, mainly for leisure. This number may not be high comparing to those from other countries but it is about two per cent of our entire population. According to recent data that we have received from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, in average the Israeli tourists stay in Thailand longer than other nationals, normally more than 17 days, and spend relatively a large entertainment budget during the trip. They usually spend a few days in Bangkok, then, go south to the beaches or head north to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son. It is an interesting fact that Thailand started as a popular destination for young Israelis as backpackers. Nowadays, it is a family destination. Israelis love Thailand and the Thai people. They express admiration for the famous hospitality, the rich and diverse culture and authentic Thai cuisine that just cannot be found elsewhere. 

at Temple

Do Israel and Thailand have any exchange programmes for students today?

Israel offers 100 one year scholarships every year for Thai students to study agricultural subjects in Israel. We have a special one-year programme for the undergraduate students to work and study simultaneously whilst gaining work experience in large farms in Israel whilst earning an income. The programme allows them to return to Thailand after gaining experience in advanced technologies of smart farming, irrigation, post-harvest and more, and whilst studying how to run a successful farm. All of these topics are extremely valuable for their future career as farmers. In this regards, they can transfer credits from Israel to complete their Bachelor’s degree.

If you could choose your next destination, where would you like to go?

 For me, my native city of Tel Aviv is my preferred posting.


Any memory from Thailand that you’d like to tell us, an awkward situation, a fun moment etc.?

I came to Thailand during two historic occasions. I shared the grief with the Thais when I attended the royal cremation ceremony for the late His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great in October 2017. I witnessed and was impressed with the unfathomable love and respect of the people to King Bhumibol. This year, I joined the Thai people in celebrating the auspicious coronation ceremonies of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua. Again I was fascinated with the grandeur of the royal ceremonies, the sophisticated Thai traditions and the unity of his subjects. 

Do you regularly meet up with your community?

Frequently. We gather at various occasions, namely the Jewish holidays, the Independence Day celebrations, and on many other festive moments. We also meet during the sad moments such as the Holocaust Memorial Day when we share our feelings for the millions of Jewish victims in Europe who were systematically murdered by the Nazi regime during WWII.

What do you believe is your most important task as an Ambassador?

The most significant assignment for me is to strengthen the friendship between Thailand and Israel at both government-to-government and people-to-people levels. 

What else would you like the expat community to know about your efforts?

There are so many things to talk about. To make it easier for your readers, please follow our Embassy’s social media. We have a very active website, twitter, Facebook and Instagram. @israelinthailand and my young communications team is doing an excellent job in these channels of “Digital Diplomacy”. As Israel is referred to as a “Start-Up Nation”, apparently we as diplomats are also active through these new innovative channels, and it is a lively platform for communication, with the Thai society, especially with the future generation.   

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