Our man in Baku

It’s pretty special that any politician would drum up hundreds of thousands of views on social media and that the speaker would become an Internet sensation, but that’s exactly what happened 6 years ago when George Deek spoke to a  modest audience in the House of Literature in Oslo. His speech has been described as one of the best speeches ever given by an Israel diplomat: and deservedly so. His prose, his knowledge of history, the rhythm of his language, his contained and disciplined passion for his country, and his rational defense of Israel are all remarkable. Adding to this, is that the newly married Arab Orthodox Christian, at only 34 years old, became the youngest ambassador in the world. Growing up in Jaffa, he was exposed to a culturally and religiously mixed environment, and even lived with his family on top of a synagogue. But Deek was chosen for his extraordinary ability and not his ethnicity or religion. A couple of years ago he was deployed to Azerbaijan, a country that borders Iran, supplies 40% of Israel’s oil to make it one of Israel’s most important partners in the region. Predominantly Muslim, Azerbaijan has also been home to a Jewish community who have lived there for centuries, and it is exceptional in that it is one of the few places on earth where Jews have never experienced persecution. 

A descendant of a family that fled Jaffa during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence George Deek has relatives scattered abroad. By the UN definition, these people are considered refugees. Before the war broke out, many Arab villagers were told to flee by their own authorities who convinced their people that Jews would butcher them in their homes. Leaving would be temporary, they said. They could return victorious when the war was over. But when the war was over, many did not return. 

It was George’s clear-thinking grandfather who stood out among the Arab masses. He saw the lies of the leadership. Courageously he forfeited the “refugee card,” and going against the flow, battled to return home to become an Israeli citizen. 

George Deek is a true diplomat. He knows how to talk to a variety of audiences. He doesn’t gloss over the suffering of refugees but he puts it in context by fearlessly stating that the “Palestinians have become slaves to the past, held captive by the chains of resentment, prisoners in the world of frustration and hate.” Close to his heart are the Christians living in Muslim lands. He is never hesitant to say that  Israel is a unique refuge for this dwindling community. George is a truth-speaker who always promotes hope, and never leaves people stranded. In the speech given in Oslo that catapulted him into the public eye, he spoke of his neighbor, who was a Shoah survivor, a man who taught him to focus on the future and not get stuck in the past. George credits his grandfather that today he is an Israeli diplomat, and not a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, because it was his grandfather no less who had the courage to make a decision that was unthinkable to others.