Israeli Ambassador Menashe Bar-on was a semi-professional football player before becoming a diplomat. PHOTO BY EDWIN MULI

If it were not for the prophetic words of a former classmate that he would succeed in the field of Foreign Service, Israel’s Ambassador to Manila, His Excellency Menashe Bar-on, may have well pursued a professional career in football.

In fact, he had already played as a semi-professional for Jerusalem for three action-packed years.

But, faced with two completely different choices at a crucial crossroads in his life, he decided to take the unlikelier path for himself and never looked back.

“To join the government is something prestigious,” Bar-on averred when The Manila Times visited the new offices of the Israel Embassy in Taguig City. “When they accepted us into the Foreign Service, it was a huge achievement, and I felt very happy.”

Bar-on began his career in international diplomacy after completing Israel’s mandatory two- to three-year training in military service. He studied Jewish History in university, and since then, has moved from one country to another.

“My three daughters were actually born in different countries,” the diplomat conveyed. “In Cyprus, Greece and Brazil, where I was posted for quite some time.”

Never regretting the abrupt end of what could have easily been a prominent career in sports, Bar-on remains athletic, with the tennis court and gym as his regular destinations. And because of his constant travels, the envoy has proudly added on another valuable skill to his list of strengths since he is now also a linguist—fluent in Arabic, English, Portuguese, Spanish and Hebrew.

Completely devoted to his calling, Bar-on realized very early on in his career that to be able to communicate in the mother tongue of the countries in which he is posted makes him more effective as a diplomat.

When he was assigned to Brazil, for example, his first course of action was to submit himself to five hours of extensive Portuguese language classes everyday for four months. In fact, in his next posting in Argentina, they thought he was actually Brazilian, until he took the same rigorous classes in Spanish, and again, almost passed for a local.

When he came to Manila, much as he would have wanted to study Filipino, he knew everyone spoke in English, and knew enough Spanish words to string together sentences.

“[The language classes] are something maybe we missed because of the [quality of]English here We didn’t need to learn Tagalog either—only a few words. But I’m still very much a believer that we benefit a lot from learning a language.”

Before his assignment as ambassador to the Philippines, Bar-on served as a consul general in London and envoy to Panama. Like most diplomats, he also worked his way up the ranks as second secretary, first secretary and counselor.

“It is only during the last quarter of one’s career service that the highest post as an ambassador is reached,” Bar-on explained. “I never thought I would be ambassador to the Philippines although I was on an official visit here 10 years ago as head of the consular service. We had talks with the DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] about OFWs [overseas Filipino workers]in Israel and so on.”

After rounding up his diplomatic tour of Panama, it was Bar-on who chose to serve as ambassador to Manila over another posting in South America.

“I think it was a very good choice because it is easy to live here as a foreigner,” Bar-on happily declared. “First, is the language; secondly, the welcome of the Filipinos is something that reminds me of my stay in the Caribbean from my posting in South America.”

Even as a tourist, Bar-on has seen first-hand how hospitable the locals are, since he and his wife have visited many famous destinations in the country, including Palawan, Boracay, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, Baguio, Samar and Aurora.

He finds it unfortunate, however, that foreigners seem to know more about the Philippines than Filipinos themselves. He has observed that most Filipinos would rather see other parts of the world, rather than explore their own heritage.

“The places we’ve seen combine beautiful beaches and rural sceneries, which I think it is something any tourist looks for,” he continued.

He also lamented the weak tourism ties between Manila and Jerusalem, beginning with the lack of direct flights between the two countries, which has hampered the influx of tourists from Israel.

“But we are working on that,” he promised.

Besides the vast tourism possibilities in the country, Bar-on also highlighted the business opportunities in the country. “The Philippines is a country that [international]companies cannot avoid,” he stated. “So I can only see the best future for the Philippines, for you as a country.”

And even more importantly, the ambassador shared with The Manila Times his unwavering efforts to improve the conditions of Israelites in Manila and Filipinos in Jerusalem.

“Always, the human being should be in our thoughts. When we are making decisions, even here in the embassy, we always have to think about those who are around us. The personal rights of the people are above everything.”

Bar-on pledges he will continue to strengthen ties between his nation and the Philippines for as long as possible, because he believes that an ambassador’s success cannot be measured by what he was able to accomplish during his posting.

“We, as ambassadors, are not working just for a certain period of time, but for the long-term,” he clarified. “[The seeds] of what we are planting today . . . sometimes, you can only see five to 10 years from now.”

With Ambassador Menashe Bar-on’s kind dedication in his international missions—be it in the Philippines or other parts of the world—it can truly be said when football lost this good man to the Foreign Service, the diplomatic community scored such a triumphant goal.


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