Rony Yedidia-Clein, Deputy Chief of Mission, Israel Embassy, says so many people have been vaccinated in Israel that her country has almost reached herd immunity.


New Delhi: On the occasion of Israel’s National Day, Rony Yedidia-Clein, Deputy Chief of Mission, Israel Embassy spoke with NewsX/The Sunday Guardian. Excerpts:

Q: I want to start out by asking you about a very topical question about the Covid-19 surge, which we’re seeing across the world; we’re seeing in India as well. How is Israel keeping up the fight currently against Covid-19?

A: Well, I’m very proud to say that over the past few months, we’ve had a very intensive and all-pervasive vaccination campaign, where almost all our adults, about 75% of people over 16 years old, have been vaccinated. I was looking at the figures, earlier today—5.3 million people have gotten at least their first dose, and of those, 4.9 6 million have received their second dose already, So, we’ve been very good about getting the vaccines. People have been very cooperative about that, and it’s brought the numbers way down; there haven’t been new cases—only a few new cases and no deaths over the past few days. Fortunately, and so, Israel has been very aggressive about fighting the…(infection), and we have been very successful in fighting it.

Q: Now if we talk about our two countries, Ma’am. India and Israel have of course a long and historic relationship. Please share some key aspects of this relationship.

A: Well, you know, we’ve had diplomatic relations for almost 30 years. Next year in 2022, we will celebrate our 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations. And over these years, we have seen these relations grow and become more visible and more important. I think that we can say that the visibility of these relations has really become great; we seek cooperation in the fields of agriculture and water, and innovation and health. Just this past year, we’ve been putting a lot to work, working together on fighting Covid-19. We’ve signed an MoU between the two countries in order to help grow the cooperation in the field of health, but also in other aspects as well as innovation and water. We’re working together with the government of UP on a big water project in the Bundelkhand region. Our centres of excellence in agriculture around the country are bringing new technologies to Indian farmers. So there’s really quite a lot that we’ve been cooperating on and I’m very happy to be a part of them.

Q: Coming back to this significant day, can you remind us why this day became so important in 1948?

A: So, this was the day 74 years ago when Israel, when the Jewish people finally gained independence. They gained their own country after 2,000 years of wandering, of not having a country. You know, over 2,000 years ago, there was an Israeli nation, there was the Jewish nation, and throughout the years, Jewish people had been living in the land of Israel, and we were finally able to gain our country through the help of the United Nations and the countries of the world. And over the last 73 years, we are so proud of everything that we’ve achieved—from making the desert green to bringing new technologies to the world. From being a country that was based on agriculture to be a country that’s based on technologies and being one of the foremost economies of the world, we’ve grown our population from 600,000 to almost 10 million. We’ve really done so much that we have to be proud of over the 73 years. And we are celebrating that.

Q: Talking about the vaccination drive, clearly, it’s going quite well in Israel. You’re seeing some marked success in time for this National Day.

A: Yes, we are and this year, as opposed to last year when everyone was just celebrating in the privacy of their own homes and on their balconies, people are going out to the parks and celebrating together, and without fear. Because as I said, so many people are vaccinated now, we have almost reached herd immunity. People are still being very careful with telling people that they’re out without the mask, you know, still, take up, wash your hands, maintain hygiene, the way you’re interacting with other people; we’re still technically very careful, but we are allowing people to go out to celebrate in the parks and get together and have a good time for this very important day of celebration.

Q: You have honoured the chief of Pfizer, Albert Bourla; how does Israel look at Covid response as a tribute to science?

A: Well, it’s very important that people realize that they have to pay attention to science and not to the politics of the response. They have to pay attention to what the numbers are saying, and we’ve seen that now with vaccinations. Israel was actually able to work with Pfizer, as one big laboratory because Pfizer took the numbers of the people who were being vaccinated and since Israel’s health system is digitized, and everyone, everyone belongs to one of four health funds, and those funds are completely digitized and so their medical information is all computerized. So Pfizer was able to take the information with complete anonymity, but still take that information in order to study how the vaccine is working. Yet, we’ve been able to find a number of really very important things for the entire world through the data that’s coming out of the Israeli vaccination drive. We’re seeing this data being quoted in journals and newspapers around the world. It’s a very important scientific breakthrough, working together in such a way that Pfizer is able to learn from the Israeli experience, and the room is able to learn from the Israeli experience and show how it is possible to overcome this horrible disease, the steady pandemic that is overtaking the world.

Q: Indeed, Israel is opening up to international tourism as well. How soon do you hope that we can recommend that Indians pay a visit?

A: Well, it depends a little bit on India getting its numbers down. And we are still opening up in a very careful and measured way at this point for tourists; it’s only tourists coming in groups, from countries that we consider “green”. Unfortunately, India is not there yet. Hopefully, India will be able to get more and more people vaccinated very soon and it will also get its numbers down and as soon as possible. I’m very hopeful that we will be able to renew tourism between the countries again.

Q: What are the places that you recommend Indian tourists visit?

A: There’s so much to see, you know. It’s such a tiny country, but there’s so much to see there—from up in Golan at the very north down to a lot at the very south where you can go dive in Jerusalem which has so much history in it—6,000 years of history. In that very small part of Jerusalem, and in fact, evolving Jerusalem which also has history around it as well and which is not only a historical city, it has historical sites there as well; but it also has wonderful beaches and cafes and restaurants, and that you can go up and down the coast of Israel. There are so many lovely, beautiful places along the coastline. You know, I really miss being in Israel because every weekend, we’d go out somewhere and see a new part of the country. Yes, there’s so much to see there and I really encourage Indian tourists—once it’s opened up to you to go and explore Israel as much as possible. You will enjoy seeing the Old City of Jerusalem and the markets of Tel Aviv, and Akko has a beautiful old city as well which is right on the sea and it’s just gorgeous. There’s really just so much to see and to do in Israel.

Q: On a different note, the past few months have seen a sea change with the Abraham accords. Do you feel that this is a historic turning point?

A: Absolutely, absolutely. Now that the Arab countries are opening up to us, we’ve had peace agreements with four different countries over the past few months—the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan. Sudan has lifted and abolished the law of boycotts against Israel. And there are so many opportunities for Israelis and for the rest of the world that…I mean India is very much invested in the Gulf states, and there’s a lot of Indian business going on between those states and now it can also involve Israeli technology and bring in Israeli knowhow and unite Gulf money and Indian capabilities. There’s so much that we can do together in order to really grow the economies of all three sides and I am very happy about this. It’s an amazing opportunity that’s opened up, for everyone.

Q: The United Arab Emirates plans to invest $10 billion in Israel. What more do you hope can happen to that?

A: Well there are so many different possibilities, you know. We’re hoping to work within and we’ve already signed some agreements. So, in the end, we’re in the process of signing more agreements in the fields of innovation and sustainability and health, and culture. There are so many different possibilities and really just depends on the market. We see that the market is already working but businesspeople are already travelling back and forth between the countries in order to find ways to cooperate together and that the possibilities I believe are endless. There’s so much that can be done. And we just have to let the businesspeople do what they do best, which is finding business and finding ways to cooperate. Countries are doing what they do best, which is signing agreements that open up doors, and I’m sure that there will be very many more deals done over the coming months and years.

Q: How can India help in taking this diplomatic progress forward then?

A: I really believe that India is already working on it. There’s the Indo-Israel Chamber of Commerce, which has opened up a branch in Dubai recently, and businesspeople, as I said, are working together. I’m sure that we can see more and more happening over the coming months. India has a wonderful part that it can play. They have the capabilities and the capacities to produce the items that can be thought up and funded by the Emiratis and invented in Israel with Indian partnership; the partnership possibilities are endless.

Q: Things with Iran, once again, are getting tense over the nuclear programme; what’s your government’s position?

A: Our proposition is that Iran needs to be stopped. It’s the only country in the world that has threatened another country with annihilation. And the country that is threatened is Israel. It cannot be allowed to get the bomb. It cannot be allowed to grow its capabilities; it’s an authoritarian theocratic regime. And it’s a force of destabilisation and insurgency across the Middle East, and it’s working to obtain nuclear weapons capabilities while talking about the total destruction of Israel, which cannot be allowed.

Q: It certainly is a very tough time currently, but in every adversity lies an opportunity, perhaps this is the time to innovate as well, and Israel is a global start-up and technology hub. What can India learn from the ecosystem that you’ve built?

A: Well, we’ve been doing so much together. Innovation covers a lot of fields. For example, over the past few months, there’s been a joint project between Israel in Gujarat, and Israel Start-Up Nation Central, which is a hub for Israeli start-ups and they’ve been doing a project together. Just this last week, they had a demo day in which five different kinds of companies were chosen in order to go forward with their project. And this is a field where India and Israel are supporting each other and working together, and also in agriculture. We’re working together with India’s Department of Agriculture in 13 different states, where we have 30 different centres of excellence—bringing Israeli technologies to the Indian farmer in order to help him grow his production rates, and to use less water and make his product better and more uniform, more, more marketable. We’re working together with the UP government in bringing Israeli water technologies to the Bundelkhand region. So there are so many different areas of innovation where Israel and India are working together. We are working together with India, in partnership in order to help India improve its technologies, and also help Israel improve those technologies for the rest of the world, this is a real partnership between our two countries. And that’s why we’re so excited about that, we’re able to work together, not just for Israel and not just for India, but for the entire world, in making things better and bringing technologies to the world in order to make it a better place.

Q: Lastly, what’s your message to Indian friends on this special day?

A: I would say when Covid is over, come and visit Israel. I would say, let’s be partners together. Let’s work together to make the world a better place. Let’s work together to make both of our countries better. We love India. Israelis just are dying to come back here; they really love India so much that they really want to come and visit again, and we want to make this partnership stronger, and even better, and we continue to want to grow our friendship. We have a wonderful friendship between us, and we should just continue to grow it.