Diplomacy traditionally has kept its distance from religious matters. However, when you are the ambassador for Israel, holding to this standard can be difficult. The country was founded as a Jewish homeland; in representing such a country, there is also the responsibility of representing the religion as well. For Daniel Taub, he implemented this responsibility into his working life during his ambassadorship in the U.K., which ran from 2011 to 2015.
Taub’s approach to incorporating faith into diplomacy can be direct, but the more indirect approaches have arguably made bigger waves. He makes it no secret he is devout; he has written prolifically on the Bible, bringing light to Jewish insights that are often overlooked in Christian churches. While this may be separate from his work as a diplomat, the simple act of putting this knowledge out into the world brings awareness to aspects of the Jewish faith that are not typically highlighted. This seemingly unrelated action becomes a powerful tool when put into the context of diplomacy. When other faiths, especially those that have been historically at odds with Judaism, become more informed about what Judaism is in detail, the country benefits from the sympathy and newfound cooperation of previously tense relationships.
Seeing the text of the bible as a potential bridge to dialogue, brought Taub to give lectures and lead classes around the country to Christian leaders on different ways to understand shared texts. Invited to speak at the Church synod, and to groups of bishops at Westminster Abbey, Taub began his sessions by teaching participants to read Hebrew with a simple phoneticized table of letters he would provide to the class. They would then look at familiar texts from the bible and begin to note how the Hebrew original contained insights and nuances that were not obvious to anyone reading in English translation.
Taub also looked to open up channels of engagement and dialogue with faithleaders on these issues. He participated in dialogs with Reverend Nicky Gumbel on issues of faith and tradition in the popular London church Holy Trinity Brompton, and interviewed former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks about his book “Not in God’s Name” which addressed the root causes of violence in the name of religion.
Taub’s more direct efforts at enlightening others to Judaism revolve around monotheistic religions’ charitable holidays. He helped bridge a divide between Jews and Muslims by taking advantage of the overlap between a Jewish fasting day and Ramadan. During that day, he was able to give Muslims an insight into the inner workings of the Jewish faith, which for many was a new experience. This familiarity is often all that is necessary to establish bonds between nations and faiths.
Taub also found that Jewish festivals and holidays provided a basis for dialogue and cooperation. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which falls around Christmas time, marks the victory of the Jewish band of Maccabees 2000 years ago against the Hellenistic Greeks and their attempt to wipe out Jewish identity and to convert the ancient Hebrew Temple into a place of Greek worship. Taub, with no little “chutzpa” approached his colleague the Greek ambassador and mentioned the festival which, he said, marked the “interface between ancient Greek and Hebrew cultures”. He suggested they organize an evening at which eminent historians of the two civilizations could discuss the relationship between the two. The evening was a great success, with a wide range of fascinated participants nourished by Greek and Israelis delicacies.
In less sympathetic environment, Taub has also worked in some of the most difficult situations imaginable for a diplomat, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In such a charged environment, in which one of the driving stressors was religion, neither side wanted to allow religious leaders into negotiations. In fact, it was one of the few things that the two sides were able to agree on. Taub, however, did not agree. This was his argument: “It was misleading to think both sides could keep issues of faith outside the door. They were already inside. We just weren’t addressing it, or even admitting it”. With such a singular and strong contention between two sides, ignoring the issue of faith can only lead to the problem resurfacing in the future, perhaps in greater strength. Taub added that he thought it was mistaken to think that religious sensibilities only served to drive the parties further apart. “Peace is also a religious value”, he noted.
Taub is no stranger to the consequences of religious disagreement. During his time as Ambassador to the U.K., he had to stand by while two of his sons fought in two separate conflicts in Gaza. Not only was the state of his country unknown, but the state of his family’s well-being was unknown as well. There is nothing that compares to the fear of losing your own child, and if nothing else could give Taub motivation to strive towards peace and cohesion between faiths, this fear certainly would.
Because of this personal perspective on conflict, Taub has taken on a personal approach to his diplomacy, which is not always seen publicly. Some of his most pivotal actions have been made behind closed doors, off the record. His goal during meetings like these is not to change the world in an hour, but rather to befriend those that have been critical of Israel. This strategy puts a face on an issue which can be very easy to dehumanize into nationalistic or religious problems. His efforts have served to remind Israel’s opponents that people exist behind these issues, and those people are not all that different from themselves.
Daniel Taub has made a name for himself internationally as a man who loves his country and his religion. His deep knowledge of the Hebrew Bible has given him a unique view on diplomatic affairs, and his sobriety of thought has allowed him to be a driving force for unification and forward thinking. His time as an ambassador is distinguished as one of the most successful for Israel in the U.K.
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