Left to right: Nico Slobinsky, director of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Pacific Region; Galit Baram, consul general of Israel to Toronto and Western Canada; Sara Lefton, vice-president of CIJA, Greater Toronto area; and Judy Zelikovitz, vice-president of CIJA University and Local Partner Services. (photo from CIJA-PR)
“There is never a dull moment,” Galit Baram, the new consul general of Israel to Toronto and Western Canada, told the Independent. “It is a whirlwind of names, people I should meet and new faces to remember.”
Baram said adaptability and versatility are key in the life of a diplomat, and her relish for her job comes through when speaking with her. Baram, who is married to a fellow diplomat and has two children, arrived in Toronto to replace D.J. Schneeweiss, the former consul general, in August. “I am looking forward to this new chapter, this new adventure,” said Baram.
Baram was born in Jerusalem. She has previously served as counselor for public affairs and coordinator of academic affairs at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. (2009-2012); counselor for economic affairs in Cairo (2006-2009); and counselor for political affairs in Moscow (1998-2003). Most recently, she was the director of the Department for Palestinian Affairs and Regional Cooperation (2013-2016).
Baram’s first posting was in Moscow. This was particularly exciting for her, she told the Independent, because of her Russian-Israeli background. “For me, this was closing a circle representing my family and my country,” she said.
Her favorite Russian novelist? Leo Tolstoy, she said, the late works. Her single favorite Russian novel is Mikhail Bulgakov’s underground classic, The Master and Margarita.
Russia has one of the largest diplomatic communities in the world, and her time there was a great learning experience, she said. With 1.6 million Russians in Israel, the relationship between the two countries is an important one.
After Russia, Baram spent “three fascinating years in Cairo.” There, she was involved in bringing Israel and Egypt’s business sectors together. She left full of respect for businesspeople on both sides, she said. During her tenure, an important trilateral agreement was signed between Israel, Egypt and the United States, the Qualified Industrial Zones Agreement, which led to strengthening of economic ties and the mutual exchange of expertise.
In Washington, Baram brought her talents to bear on increasing academic cooperation between Israeli and American universities, before returning to Israel to head the Department for Palestinian Affairs and Regional Cooperation. Her duties focused on building aspects of civil society and cooperation between Israelis, Palestinians and neighboring countries. One of the key issues she sought to address was water.
“Water is going to be a central issue in the region,” said Baram. “Israel is leading the world in desalination technology, since the 1970s, and, in recent decades, has increasingly shared this technology around the world. Regionally, we supply water to Jordan (since 1994) and to the Palestinians. We are more than willing to share with more neighbors in the region.”
Baram also worked with a long list of Israeli nongovernmental organizations that cooperate across the Middle East in bridging the gap between different countries and groups of people, particularly young people. “We need to show that the young people can live together,” she said.
“I believe that, when it comes to the Middle Eastern region, education is a key element in regional stability,” she explained. “Jews, Arabs and Palestinians need to learn about each other. Animosity, mutual suspicion and ignorance are major problems. The best way to overcome this is to bring together young people and to bring together communities, and to build mutual understanding.”
Baram said she feels very comfortable in Canada – “Israel and Canada have very friendly and close relations, very warm,” she said. “There are many similarities between us. Both countries are very multicultural, and are always growing and changing. Canada and Israel share many important values in the spheres of human rights, democracy and pluralism. I am happy to say that Israeli diplomats feel very warmly welcomed in Canada.”
Baram added that she is very impressed with Canada’s Jewish institutions and their activities, and has found the community to be very well-organized and warm.
Baram hopes “to expand tourism and business connections between Israel and Canada, to invite Canadians to Israel to look for opportunities together, and to maintain close relations between the Jewish Diaspora and Israel.”
She said she has every intention to travel Western Canada as soon as possible, and plans to visit Vancouver soon to get acquainted with the Jewish community here.
She also added, “I would like to take this opportunity to say shanah tovah, a peaceful and successful year in Israeli-Canadian relations, and peace and happiness and health to us all.”
Baram and the consulate in Toronto can be followed on Facebook and Twitter as “Israel in Toronto.”
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.