SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – A Druze professor was appointed Israel’s chief diplomat in New Zealand.
Hebrew Literature Professor Naim Araidi was appointed to the post by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.
“After years of representing the State of Israel unofficially, it would be a great privilege for me to do so in an official capacity and show Israel’s beautiful side, as well as the coexistence that despite all the hardships can only be maintained in a true democracy,” the newspaper reported Araidi as saying.
Born in Kfar Marrar in the Galilee, the 62-year-old teaches at Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University and won the Prime Minister’s Award for Hebrew Literature in 2008. He received his doctorate in Hebrew literature from Bar-Ilan. His poems have been published in more than a dozen languages.
Lieberman said Araidi’s appointment “represents the beautiful face of Israel, in which a talented person, irrespective of religion or sector – can reach the highest places on merit, and be an inspiration for all Israelis.”
“I am convinced that he will honor the State of Israel as an ambassador as he did as a writer,” he added.
Araidi is expected to replace Shemi Tzur later this year. Tzur was appointed in 2009, the first Israeli diplomat in New Zealand since 2002, when Israel’s embassy in Wellington was closed as part of global cost-cutting measures by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
There are about 7,000 Jews in New Zealand, mainly in Auckland and Wellington.
Araidi is not Israel’s first Druze ambassador — Walid Mansour was posted to Vietnam and Reda Mansour served in Ecuador.