Spat between ambassadors gets nasty at Israeli Embassy

Ottawa’s diplomatic scene has witnessed its share of squabbles and small rivalries, but it’s hard to recall the last time an actual fistfight broke out at an embassy, as reportedly happened at the Israeli mission on O’Connor Street. What’s more, the alleged shoving match was between two Israeli representatives.

The altercation was splashed across the front pages of two mass-circulation Israeli newspapers last month. One headline declared, in Hebrew, “fighting at the Canadian embassy.” According to the reports, the dispute stems from a conflict between the current Israeli ambassador in Ottawa, Alan Baker, and his predecessor, Haim Divon. One embassy staffer involved in the fight was described as a “Divon man.”

The newspaper reports said the situation is so bad that the Israeli foreign ministry was considering shutting down the entire embassy.

Mr. Baker denied in an interview with the Citizen that there was any physical fight within the embassy, saying it was only a heated argument. But he did reveal that “last week, the inspector general of the foreign service was here in order to look into the personnel issues in the embassy.”

The diplomatic brouhaha also involved financing for the upcoming Peace Camp Canada, a project aimed to bring Palestinian and Israeli teenagers together in August at Ashbury College.

The initiative was launched last summer by Michelle Divon, the former ambassador’s daughter, and is currently being organized by Mr. Divon’s wife and son.

Mr. Divon charged that Mr. Baker had a “strange paranoia” toward him and was standing in the way of the camp. Mr. Baker has charged that Mr. Divon was still “mixing the broth” at the embassy in Ottawa, thus undermining his authority. Both deny the charges.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was reportedly furious over the incident and announced that he was refusing to discuss Mr. Divon’s appointment to a high-level position in the ministry until he received a detailed report about what was going on in Ottawa.

According to the story, the Jewish community in Canada also expressed embarrassment over the dispute, some saying they were “torn” between Mr. Baker and Mr. Divon. Others said the dispute was giving Israel a bad name.

Several Canadian Jewish organizations refused to comment on the issue. Alicia Richler of the Canada-Israel Committee would only say “we are confident that the Israeli Foreign Ministry will handle the matter and this will not affect the embassy’s work.”

The embassy affair began when Mr. Baker complained, in a memo to Jerusalem, that Mr. Divon was still meddling in embassy business. The memo, it seems, was leaked to an Israeli journalist.

“In every foreign ministry in the world it is customary for an ambassador who leaves his post to allow his replacement to work,” said Mr. Baker, who was saddened that the affair had become public. “I felt that he wasn’t sticking to that custom. I asked that this be addressed, and it was leaked.”

Mr. Divon, in an interview from Israel, said he was equally disappointed in the headlines the story had drawn.

“I heard about the story and I started laughing. It is so absurd. It is just unbelievable that they connected me to this,” he said. “If this made the front page of the Israeli newspapers, it is really sad.”

He rejected the notion that he was an ambassador in exile and said that while he still had many friends in Canada, he was no longer directly involved in the workings of the Israeli Embassy. He did, however, fiercely defend the peace camp his daughter established.

“I really don’t understand … why Baker has a problem with it,” he said, adding he was proud of what he and his family have done in pursuit of peace.

Mr. Baker said, in principle, he supported the peace camp and any other project aimed at bringing people together, but he needed to clarify to those who had inquired that the embassy was not behind the Divons’ recent fundraising efforts for the camp.

Mr. Baker added that internal personal tensions have existed within the ministry for some time, dating back to Mr. Divon’s term. He said he merely inherited the problems, which have since been blown out of proportion. “This is not newsworthy and not sexy. It happens in every good family,” he said.