Ambassador Nimrod Barkan, the State of Israel’s new chief diplomat in Canada, arrived in Ottawa in December just as the cold Canadian winter was layering the city in snow.
On December 12, he presented his credentials to Governor General David Johnston at Rideau Hall and was immediately thrust into an ambassador’s typically busy schedule of meetings with political leaders and government officials, national media interviews, community and cultural events, and cross-country travel, all the while settling into his new home in Ottawa with his wife, Shlomit Shulov-Barkan, and into his new office at the Embassy of Israel.
Barkan’s father, a teenaged Holocaust survivor from Hungary, arrived in pre-state Israel on a clandestine immigration ship after the Second World War. The future ambassador was born in Tel Aviv in 1952.
After studying international relations and Middle East history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Barkan joined Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
“I joined the Foreign Ministry on January 2, 1977, the same day as Rafi Barak,” he said, referring to the former Israeli ambassador to Canada whose tenure here ended just before his began.
Barkan’s distinguished career has now stretched across four complete decades and has included diplomatic postings in Egypt, the United States and France, as well as high level positions in Israel with the Foreign Ministry.
Among those positions was heading the Ministry’s Policy Research Centre in 2006, a time of two major upheavals in the Middle East. The first was the Palestinian election on January 31.
“Suddenly, Hamas held a majority in the Palestinian parliament … which completely changed the political reality,” he said.
Barkan explained that this shift in the Palestinian political dynamic took the Israeli intelligence community by surprise as no one expected Hamas – a terrorist organization pledged to destroy the Jewish state – to win the election.
The second upheaval came in June when the Second Lebanon War broke out. The Policy Research Centre under Barkan recognized that Israel did not have an exit strategy from the war in place and designed a plan that helped bring the war to a close.
This led to a greatly expanded role for the Policy Research Centre in Israel’s policy-making apparatus.
“My biggest contribution to the Foreign Ministry, until today, was the four years in which we completely rebuilt and recreated the Policy Research Centre and established it for what it is today,” Barkan said.
An earlier position held by Barkan in the Foreign Ministry was heading the Bureau of World Jewish Affairs beginning in 2000. During Barkan’s tenure, the bureau was merged with the Bureau of World Religious Affairs, with responsibility for both falling under his direction.
Barkan’s diplomatic experience includes stints as consul in Philadelphia from 1982 to 1985; political consul at Israel’s embassy in Cairo from 1985 to 1987, where he survived two terrorist attacks; in Washington as minister of public affairs responsible for the operations of all of Israel’s consulates in the United States from 1992 to 1995; consul general in San Francisco from 1995 to 1997; and in Paris from 2010 to 2014 as ambassador to UNESCO and the Council of Europe.
Barkan said his first priority as Israeli ambassador to Canada is to preserve and enhance “the excellent relationship and friendship” that Israel enjoys with Canada and “expanding the relationship in as many fields as possible.”
Barkan said he expects the signing of a modernized free trade agreement between Israel and Canada to take place within the next two months.
Throughout the interview, Barkan displayed a keen sense of humour, which can be seen in a short YouTube video introducing the ambassador to Canada. http://tinyurl.com/barkan-video