Galit Baram, Israel’s new consul general in Toronto and Western Canada, arrived in mid-August with her husband, son and daughter for a three- to four-year tour of duty. In taking over for DJ Schneeweiss, she brings diverse diplomatic experience to the role: she was Israel’s director of the department for Palestinian affairs and regional co-operation (2013-2016); counsellor for public affairs and co-ordinator of academic affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. (2009-2012), counsellor for economic affairs in Cairo (2006-2009), and counsellor for political affairs in Moscow (1998-2003).
The CJN sat down with Baram to discuss her plans and her role as a female trailblazer.
How did you prepare for the role? What did you know before you came?
I visited Canada once or twice on private visits. I spent an orientation week with the previous consul general, DJ Schneeweiss, who by the way is a very close friend. We joined the foreign together 23 years ago. We were “cadets” side by side for several months.
There’s also a lot of background information provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, usually from foreign diplomats who served in Canada, not only in Toronto, but in Ottawa and Montreal.
What has struck you so far about Toronto and Western Canada?
What has struck me most is the diverse population here, and we take pride in Israel in our diverse population in that Israel absorbs aliyah, immigration, from different countries, and the cultural tapestry of Israeli society.
I was in line at the national aquarium in Toronto with my husband and children, and we were surrounded by people from every corner of the earth speaking different languages, sometimes in their national costumes. The atmosphere of acceptance and mutual respect is really overwhelming. The second thing that impressed me deeply was the Jewish community’s commitment to Israel, how organized it is and how committed the members of the community are to Jewish education and continuity.
What do you plan on emphasizing as consul general?
I want to concentrate on establishing and expanding ties with different audiences in Canadian society, since it is a society of immigrants.
Another subject is innovation, when it comes to creating jobs and bringing delegations to Israel. DJ did remarkably well on that, as well as [Ambassador] Rafael Barak in Ottawa, who dedicates most of his time to that.
Also, I would like to focus on social media. I believe we can expand activity in Facebook, Twitter or other social media tools. Our diplomats are very active on social media. We are actually encouraged by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Israel is one of the leading countries in this area. So take this opportunity to encourage your readers to follow us – go to @IsraelinToronto on Twitter and Facebook.
Which specific communities in Canada do you think are real opportunities for Israel to reach out to?
Growing communities from India, the Chinese community. Older immigrant communities from Italy and Portugal. Also First Nations communities.
Are there opportunities with Islamic faith communities?
Definitely. Israel has strong relations with moderate Muslim countries around the world. I want to see co-operation between Israeli representatives here and moderate leaders of the Muslim community here.
How would you go about that?
Cultural exchange proves a strong bridge. I recently attended an event in a church of the community of Pastor Teck Uy here in Toronto, with a Filipino Evangelical church, and it was deeply moving, their support of Israel. In the near future, the Jewish community will host a choir from Japan, and both the Israeli and Japanese consulates will be represented.
Ambassadors and consul generals in other parts of the world have conducted Iftar dinners for moderate Muslim leaders, and I want to host such an event at my house during Ramadan next year. These are a few options, but there are many more.
Is Toronto considered a plum diplomatic posting?
Canada in general is an extremely friendly country when it comes to Israel, and Israeli diplomats feel very much at home here. This is also attributable to the Jewish community here in Canada, which accepts Israeli diplomats with open arms. Our diplomats serve in many hardship posts, and when they have an opportunity to serve in a post with a functioning, vibrant and well-organized Jewish community, it’s wonderful on a private, personal, family and, of course, professional level.
Are you the first female Israeli consul general in Toronto and Western Canada?
As far as I know, yes. A growing number of women are heads of mission. When I joined the ministry, there were fewer women. It was considered a masculine profession, and women were expected to support their diplomat husbands, but things do change gradually. This is very good.
Is your role in this change a point of pride?
I believe that women who reach high-ranking positions have responsibility not only for their own career. They are role models for younger girls. I think of my own little girl – she’s nine years old – and it’s wonderful for her to see a mother who has a career and opens doors for her and her generation.
Your husband is also a diplomat – what will he do in Toronto?
My husband and I entered the foreign service together and ended up marrying each other. Since then, we’ve been travelling around the world with our two kids. He’s the commercial and economic attaché here in Toronto, but he covers Canada. He reports not to me, his wife, but to the ambassador in Ottawa.
Will you have opportunities to work closely together?
Definitely. It is expected that the consul general will work with the person who covers economic co-operation in Canada. We try very much not to talk about work at home. We have two kids, and there are many other issues to talk about between a husband and a wife. It’s very hard to do so, because we live and breathe diplomacy, but we try to limit it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.