Anna Azari: I’m still astonished at how great the Czech-Israeli relationship is
The new Israeli Ambassador to the Czech Republic Anna Azari has rich diplomatic experience from nearby countries. She knows a lot about the Czech Republic and the Czechs and is planning to introduce more of today’s Israel during her tenure, to improve the country's attractiveness for younger generations. The new ambassador confesses that she chose to move to Prague also because she wanted to experience first-hand the excellent relations between the two countries. For her, Czechia is a dynamic, growing environment with a chance to see history in the making. In the interview, she describes her relationship with the Czech Republic and talks about Czech-Israeli cooperation initiatives, both existing and new.
You have been Ambassador since August. What was your awareness about the Czech Republic before you came to the country?
The story of the Czech Republic for me as well as for all Israelis is comprised of several layers. First, at the very beginning of the Israeli state, there were Czech weapons and training for our future army – this is something most Israelis are aware of. Second, and that’s specific to me as a history lover, there is the memory of the 1938 Munich Agreement. Third, probably the only song related to Czechs in the Hebrew language, called A Dream I Dreamt about Prague which bemoans the Soviet invasion to Czechoslovakia in 1968. I also have a personal reflection of this – I lived in Lithuania until I was twelve, which was then part of the Soviet Union, and my family saw the occupation as a tragedy, same as everyone who belonged to the Intelligentsia in the eastern bloc. I remember watching ice hockey games as a child, and everyone around us always supported Czechoslovakia against the USSR.
Czech-Israeli relations span across the entire society
Is there anything that has surprised you so far?
As a long-term diplomat in the services of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I know a lot about the Czech Republic, including the unusual level of friendliness of your country towards the state of Israel. When I was looking for a diplomatic post abroad and saw Prague among the openings, I knew immediately this was where I wanted to go. But even now I’m still astonished at how great the relationship of Czechs towards Israel is. It’s a friendliness that seems to span across the entire society, not just your political representation.
You mentioned that you lived in Lithuania as a child. Plus, in your diplomatic career, you have been ambassador to Poland, Ukraine or Russia. What is it that keeps attracting you to?
My relative knowledge of this part of the world as well as of the Russian language has obviously been an advantage. But overall I find these societies immensely interesting, as they are rapidly changing, and you have a chance to see history in the making. Although sadly, it’s not always necessarily in the right direction.
But the most remarkable part for me is that although these four post-Communist countries should theoretically be much alike, they are in fact completely different in my experience, be it in religion, culture or life attitudes.
Appeal to younger generations with contemporary arts and hi-tech
What are you expecting from your tenure in Prague? What have you set as the main goals for the upcoming years?
I chose Prague myself because I wanted to experience the great Czech-Israeli relations. My main goal therefore is not to spoil them. I also want to appeal as much as possible to the younger generations, because I am aware that the positive attitude towards Israel is not set in stone. It is something we constantly have to work on, and particularly with younger people. Lastly, I would like to bring to the Czech Republic more of today’s Israel, including the latest hi-tech developments as well as contemporary arts. I believe this could be more engaging specifically for younger people.
Are there any Embassy programmes or initiatives already in place to support this?
One example of such initiative is the Tzemach project which started in 2015 and whose goal is to bring Czech and Israeli high school students closer together. The project involves lectures for high school students and student competitions in arts, literature and IT. There was actually an award ceremony of this year’s competition earlier today. The students said that when they started, they didn’t know anything about Israel because it wasn’t on their radar, but then they got more interested as they were preparing their projects, doing their research and forming their own ideas. That was really uplifting to hear.
Many examples of well-established cooperation
In a 2019 interview for TRADE NEWS, your predecessor Daniel Meron spoke of existing or planned collaborations between Israel and Czechia in new technologies, AI, healthcare or start-ups. What is the current situation in these fields?
In healthcare for instance, there has been a very tight cooperation in covid research and supply of anti-covid means between our countries. For start-ups and new technologies, we have many platforms in place which help build cooperations in these areas. I have recently met representatives of the Czech-Israeli Innovation and Partnership Centre, and they confirmed that they are already connected with their Israeli counterparts on all fronts. Overall, a lot is already happening, and the question is how we can further accelerate it and make it even smoother. We can build joint business accelerators, for instance.
Can you give any examples of cooperation between Israel and Czechia in IT and innovation?
The biggest one is probably the Israeli cybersecurity company Check Point software, who have a large branch in the Czech Republic and are very successful here. Another thing I can mention is the Czech-Israeli women hackathon which took place this year, in cooperation with Azrieli College a Hadassah Academic College on the Israeli side. With the guidance of mentors on both sides, the participants were trying to tackle the issues of violence against children and sexual harassment at universities. They proposed practical solutions and developed mobile apps for that purpose. One of the apps will probably be introduced to the market this autumn. Finally, for next year, we are planning to set up a delegation for women in IT – as part of my initiative to find more niches to help empower women in the job market.
You can’t do top-notch innovation without failure, sometimes even repeated failure.
What inspiration can the Czech Republic take from Israel in how R&D and business work together? What is the secret to Israel’s success?
As for Israel’s success in this field, it’s important to point out the strong role of the Israeli military, which works very much as the accelerator of the rest of hi-tech industries in the country. Moreover, the army takes in the best young people, they get very hands-on with the latest cutting-edge technologies, and after they leave the army, they are ready to work for any IT or hi-tech company in the world. That’s obviously something the Czech Republic can’t – and doesn’t have to – replicate.
As opposed to Israel, your country has a very strong industry and engineering, and a different structure of economy. You do have great innovation and innovative approaches already, but one thing that I find very important and very strongly present in the Israeli culture is the acceptance of failure. You can’t do top-notch innovation without failure, sometimes even repeated failure.
Another thing that has worked wonders in the Israeli environment has been to build university and research facilities, business and office parks or even military facilities close to one another. This sheer physical proximity makes it much easier to share and commercialise ideas which come to existence at universities. The more hubs like this, the better R&D and business will work together.
Anna Azari was interviewed by Daniel Libertin
Text: Daniel Libertin
Photo credit: Anna Azari