With two short videos about Israel Roi Dvir opens his encounter with postgraduate students of journalism in Aarhus. The Deputy Ambassador of Israel in Denmark first plays a clip that covers the achievements of the country in its 65 years of existence. Images that range from S.Y. Agnon Nobel Prize, the Peace Treaty with Egypt, to the development of its aerospace industry appear in a timeline with musical background. The second video promotes innovations created in Israel: the cherry tomato, the USB flash drive, the solar water heaters, the instant text messaging. Neither of the two clips focuses on what the world would normally associate with Israel: the conflict with Palestine.
“These are some of our strengths and we are quite sure many parts of the population are not so much aware of them” , says Dvir to students from over 30 nationalities, enrolled in the Erasmus Mundus Program on Journalism, Media and Globalization. Discussing the Palestine conflict during this meeting, he openly welcomes the Two-State solution promoted by the Israeli government. Yet, he wants the students to know that the conflict is not everything that defines Israel.
It is an afternoon of May and the diplomat has just arrived from Copenhagen to the Danish School of Media and Journalism. In his first visit to Aarhus since he took office in August he is here to give the lecture ‘Israel today – The situation in Israel and the Middle East’.
Clad in suit and tie, the official explains that Israel has discovered that the best way to “brand” itself is with the technological advances developed in there, like the ones in the videos.
“We are speaking about branding our country”, Dvir makes clear, “challenging geopolitical situations are many times an engine for innovations”. Israel is one example, he adds, but also South Korea and Singapour.
Dvir shares he is happy to be here, talking with young people. Since he was assigned in this position, approaching young Danes has become one of his main objectives. Unlike some decades ago, when many volunteered in kibbutz’around the country, today, he says, “Israel has an image problem among Danish youth”.
– Why do you think Israel is having an image problem?, the audience asks.
Dvir shows a picture on the presentation screen. It is a young Palestinian boy throwing a stone at an Israeli tank. Shot in 2000 by AP photographer Laurent Rebours this image became a symbol for the Second Intifada and the Palestinian resistance.
– This is the reason, Dvir says.
To change Israel’s image among the Danish youth, he explains, he has been visiting universities and high schools and being active in the social media through the Embassy website, Facebook and a YouTube channel. All these platforms are in Danish, he underlines.
The diplomat tells the students that he is also willing to engage in debates about the conflict with Palestine. For this, he has tried to get in touch with the youth organizations of the parties, but not yet with a favorable response.
“In these nine months I haven’t received any proposal”, Dvir complaints.
Dvir: Anti-Semitism persists in the XXI Century
One of the reasons Dvir has for this rejection is what he refers to as “anti-semitism” in Denmark and other European countries. ”Jews and Israelis cannot go freely in the streets in the 21st Century either with the star of David or any kind of Isreali or Jews symbols”, he declares.
When asked if he could give an example of anti-semitism expressions happened in Denmark, Dvir recalls a recent rampage towards his office. During the last Israel attacks over Gaza as a reaction to Hamas rockets the Embassy of this country in Copenhagen was vandalised by a pro-Palestinian group. The Danish press reported that during the night of November 19th, over 20 protesters sprayed the words “child killers” in the office walls and threw Roman candles and rocks. One person was detained.
“It is not up to us as an Embassy to give advices to Denmark or any other country, how to deal with these issues”, Dvir declares, “but as an Embassy, it is responsible for Isaeli citizens and has a kind of collective responsibility over jews wherever they are”. He indicates that Israel is expressing its concerns with the Danish government in a direct and bilateral framework, “without big headlines in the press”.
“I cannot say anything more than that it is very worrying”, he says and continues his presentation.
Palestinian issue, a topic of disagreement between Israel and Denmark
Though Israel faces this image and hostility issues in Denmark, both governments do agree on their approaches towards the Middle Eastern conflicts in Syria and Iran, according to the diplomat. This year, he highlights, they celebrate together the 70th anniversary of the Danish evacuation of jews to Sweden, rescuing almost 8000 people – 95 per cent of the jewish population in Denmark by that time – from the Holocaust. However, the biggest issue defining Israel’s rejection in the Nordic country is the perspective on Palestine, a topic he touches at the end of his dialogue with the students.
In March 2011, Danish government upgraded the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) representative office in Copenhagen to a mission with full diplomatic status. By this, the office received official power equal to other countries. Last November 29 Denmark voted in favor to admit Palestine as a non – member observer state in the United Nations.
Dvir considers that the best way to support the Palestinians is by pushing them to negotiations and not by upgrading the status of their mission or recognizing them at the UN.
“That is all very nice, on the public, or maybe for the public relations, but on the ground this does not make a difference”, he concludes his lecture. With books and business cards he thanks the group for the invitation. As the students start to leave their seats, he mentions the new Facebook page the Embassy in Copenhagen created. “Come and like it”.
* This article was published at In – Sight Out on May 27th, 2013.