Most colorful chief of protocol. Eldan
Photo: Tomeriko
Master of diplomacy
An African diplomat's wife complains of abuse, an Albanian president is stuck on plane, and Peru's first lady craves papaya juice: These are only few cases outgoing Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol Yitzhak Eldan recalls from seven years on job

A few months ago, a wife of an African ambassador to Israel filed a complaint with the police, claiming that her husband was beating her. Due to the high sensitivity of the case, and the ambassador's immunity, the police quickly informed the Foreign Ministry.


The ambassador was promptly summoned to a face-to-face conversation with the ministry's Chief of Protocol Yitzhak Eldan.


"Look, Mr. Ambassador," Eldan said sternly, "your wife complained that you are hitting her. I am informing you, that if you don't stop immediately – we will declare you as a persona non grata, and you will be forced to leave Israel at once."


The African ambassador sat with a sealed look on his face, hardly believing his ears; however, the harsh language did the trick, and the ambassador ceased his faulty behavior.


Eldan, the mythological Foreign Ministry's chief of protocol during the past seven years, ended his term of office last week.


The story of the African ambassador was a mere example of the many fires Eldan had to put out throughout his years of service.


Eldan's face was the first to greet hundreds of presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and senior diplomats upon arrival to Israel. He would welcome them on the red carpet, alongside the limousine and with all the customary ceremonial exchanges.


One of his main contributions to the ministry was the preparation of a book called "Being a diplomat in Israel," which explains Israel's uniqueness, and offers guidelines on what is allowed, and what should be avoided while working as a diplomat in the Jewish State.


His idea was adopted by several chiefs of protocol in other foreign ministries that distributed similar handbooks to visiting diplomats.


Like Tarzan  

Eldan, 67, joined the Israeli Foreign Ministry 41 years ago. He served in numerous positions in the ministry, including Israel's ambassador to Denmark and UNESCO.


He also served as the head of the ministry's Personnel Training and Development department and was the first to instill an ethics code for Israeli diplomats.


In 2003, Eldan was appointed as chief of ceremony, but was not thrilled at first – as it was during the height of the al-Aqsa Intifada, and Israel had hardly any foreign visitors.


"I am the type of diplomat who is combative; not the type that keep a low profile," he notes. However, as things got better, foreign officials slowly resumed official visits to Israel.


In 2005, Eldan hosted 36 heads of states and foreign ministers at an inauguration ceremony for a new wing at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum.


"The Albanian President arrived with a tiny aircraft, and I was waiting for him next to the red carpet," recalls Eldan.


"The airplane door opened and the pilot peeked his head out. He looked at me, and I looked back at him, and the only thing missing was the aircraft staircase.


"We called a vehicle with portable stairs, but it did not manage to connect to the plane, and almost tore off the wing. I was shocked," Eldan adds.


"The president was sitting onboard; it was a hot day and everyone was sweating. I thought to myself that I'll take a rope and climb up like Tarzan and carry down the president. After half an hour of failed attempts, we managed to connect the stairs, and I went onboard and apologized over and over again," he says.


In another unusual incident a few months ago, Eldan received a phone call from the wife of an ambassador of an important South American country.


"My husband fled Israel and left me on the street. The ambassador's residence is locked and sealed. I don't know what to do," the frantic woman told Eldan, who was speechless.


"Where do I draw the line of intervention? My natural inclination as chief of protocol is to serve and assist others. I scheduled a meeting with her, and listened to her story. It might be an intimate topic– but at the same time there is a violation of the woman's human rights," he notes.


Eldan finally decided on a course of action: "I consulted with the ministry and contacted the embassy's management, telling them that it was unacceptable for this woman's rights to be trampled over.


"I ordered them to immediately unlock the apartment, take care of her, and inform their Foreign Ministry that this sort of behavior was unacceptable. In the end, they both left the country," he says.


Not 'chummy'  

Foreign delegates' visits to Israel can produce amusing situations to no end; in one such incident, the wife of a visiting Peruvian president woke up one morning at 6 am with an uncontrollable craving for papaya juice.


Eldan's staff racked their brains on how to deliver the goods, when they suddenly recalled that Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market had a juice stand that specialized in papaya juice. They immediately dispatched a driver to complete the important mission.


In another case, Lithuania's foreign minister announced one day that he would like to go for a jog along Tel Aviv's promenade. The Shin Bet security services rejected the idea, but Eldan intervened and managed to find a bodyguard to accompany the minister on his one-and-a-half hour run.


Similarly, the Shin Bet and Foreign Ministry raised their eyebrow when the Czech foreign minister asked to go for a swim in the Mediterranean Sea. Eldan decided to appease the minister, and sent a bodyguard to swim alongside the official.


But not all incidents have a happy ending. On numerous occasions, Eldan had to physically separate between Israeli and foreign bodyguards quarrelling over who will stand closer to the official they were appointed to protect.


In one such incident, Eldan found himself in the middle of a brawl between Turkish and Russian bodyguards. At another instance, he accidently sustained a blow to the head and had one of his shirts torn.


But Eldan knows how to fight over his territory; his main power struggles were held mainly against the President's residence and the Prime Minister's Office, both repeatedly trying to take control over visits by heads of state.


Eldan recalls a behind-the-scenes battle between him and the office of then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, during a visit of former US President George W. Bush. The reception ceremony at Ben Gurion airport was to be attended by various officials, including Olmert's archenemy State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.


Olmert's office's chief of staff at the time, Yoram Turbowicz, asked Eldan to remove Lindenstrauss from the guest list, but the latter refused.


Eldan eventually lost the battle, and the state comptroller was left out of the list.


The retiring chief of protocol also held battles with foreign emissaries ahead of officials' visits.


During preparations ahead of former US Vice President Dick Chaney's visit to Israel, the White House's chief of protocol instructed Eldan to only allow three people to greet the vice president on the red carpet.


Eldan was furious. "I am sorry, but this is the State of Israel. You are our guest, and you will not tell me what to do in my country," he told the American official, who was taken aback by his straightforwardness, but finally conceded.


During Eldan's term as chief of protocol, Israel hosted a long list of important and memorable visits, such as that of the Pope, two visits of US President Bush, as well as the visits of French President Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and many others.


Eldan also infused the Israeli mentality into his position, by permitting foreign diplomats to keep the dress tie at home, and stroll around in light clothing during the hot months of summer.


What do you think about Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's style, and how he reprimands his European counterparts?


"I am against a defeatist approach. I accept Lieberman's instructions not to grovel or idle away."


Even so, what do you make of the low chair incident between Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and the Turkish ambassador?


"This is not the way to greet an ambassador, and I think those involved in the incident know they erred. However, it should be noted that this ambassador was particularly sensitive."


Eldan was definitely one of Israel's most colorful chiefs of protocol. He was not chummy with diplomats, but unlike his predecessors, managed to form many personal friendships with foreign emissaries working in Israel.


The foreign diplomats, on their part, arranged no less than three farewell events in Eldan's honor, which seemed more fitting for a foreign minister himself, and not a ministry official.


After his retirement, Eldan plans to launch a new career, and establish an ambassadors' club, which will connect foreign ambassadors in Israel to Israeli society and local businessmen.


"I feel as though foreign diplomats are not connected to Israel's public scene, but only to the elites," he explains.


"We'll take them on a tour on the ground. We'll introduce them to Israeli businessmen and arrange meetings with members of the Israeli society. This is exactly the void that I recognized while I was serving as head of protocol," Eldan concludes.



פרסום ראשון: 11.10.10, 11:29
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