An Israeli ambassador at the center of a racist row last year left Australia six months early.
Naftali Tamir, whose comments about Asians to an Israeli newspaper in October sparked a storm of protest and resulted in an inquiry by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, left Canberra this week six months before the end of his three-year term.
In the Ha’aretz interview, Tamir reportedly said, “We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don’t have the yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are basically the white race.”
Tamir denied having made the comments and, after being summoned to Jerusalem for an official inquiry, returned to Australia’s capital.
The ambassador arrived in Australia in January 2005 and managed to reconcile Israel’s turbulent relationship with New Zealand, serving as a non-resident ambassador. New Zealand had suspended diplomatic ties with Israel in 2004 after two alleged Mossad agents were caught there using fraudulent passports. But the race row cast a cloud over the last few months of Tamir’s tenure.
Tamir has been replaced by Yuval Rotem, a veteran of Israel’s mission to the United Nations and the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles. Rotem will also be the non-resident ambassador to New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
Canberra is Israel’s only embassy in the South Pacific following closures over the past decade in Wellington, New Zealand and Suva, and in the Fiji islands, as well as the Israeli consulate in Sydney, Australia.