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20 January, 2019  ▪  Спілкувався: Yuriy Lapayev

Joel Lion: “You don’t have to afraid the conflict, just go and do the business”

During the Discussion Club “Open World” organised by Open Ukraine Foundation The Ukrainian Week talks with the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the State of Israel to Ukraine on the conflict in Syria, the free trade between our countries and business in the conditions of uncertain security situation

Starting from international political situation, can you share current views by State of Israel on development of situation in Syria. Do you see any possible ways to solve the conflict and the role of Israel in this process?

– The conflict in Syria is very dangerous for us in one reason, because it brings Iran closer to our borders. Iran openly wishes to destroy the State of Israel. We were living with Syria for almost forty years without any incidents. The problem begins when Iran and Iranian Shiits militia are taken positions in Syria. Because if you have a weak regime, then they are coming in from the outside and we have Iran and Hezbollah near our borders. How do we know, that they want to destroy us? First of all we know this from the press, they are saying this days and nights without any problems. Secondly, we have discovered now four tunnels, coming from Lebanon into the territory of Israel, dug by Hezbollah with the part of Iranian regime in order to enter our territory and make terroristic acts against our citizens. The hope that we have is that if there is a way to solve the conflict, Iran may not stay in Syria. Israel can not involve itself into internal Arab conflict, it’s impossible. 

We see the fear of possible uncontrolled development and usage of Artificial Intelligence is growing in the world. Some experts propose to create some kind of agreements or convention (like for chemical weapon) to control AI-development. Could you share the views of your country as a recognized leader in IT-business on that issue?

– I don’t think that we have an official view on that issue. The only thing that I know is that when you controlling and censoring things, they will not progress anymore. If there is a regime of censorship on IT, the IT will stand. The only reason why IT is progressing and discovering and creating something really new is because it is free. 

There are some countries, which recognized Jerusalem as a capitol of Israel. Why is it important?

– The importance is to be on a right side of history. To rectify things which are wrong. The capitol of Israel was Jerusalem, is Jerusalem and it will be Jerusalem, a united Jerusalem. And the world needs to accommodate to this. And I hope that someday Ukraine will be also on a right side of history in that issue. 

Coming closer to Ukraine, how can you evaluate current state of bilateral cooperation between Ukraine and Israel? Are there any unsolved questions or problems?

– We see our bilateral relations as friendly relations. We are not keeping unsolved questions under the table, we are talking about everything. And I think that it is a way in which friends should act. To be able to talk about everything, even if it hurts. Our relations are very good, we are cooperating in a lot of fields. For example in international organizations, in the field of agriculture, medicine, education, hi-tech. We are about to sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between our two countries. We have many hi-level meetings between our leaders. All this are signs of healthy relationships. Also I think that both our countries share the European way of thinking, the wish of democracy. I see Ukraine is trying to bring more democracy to country through all the reforms, to have more rule of law. It is hard. If you have a big ship, you can not change its course in one night, it take time. I think the genuine wish of the Ukrainians is to change things here in your country and they have the European values in mind. And we share the same values like freedom and democracy. 

You have mentioned FTA, which hopes and plans have State of Israel on that agreement? 

– We wish to export more. We wish that Ukrainian market will open for our exporters. For example in agricultural sector we can sell wine to Ukraine. It is a way to promote the free trade between two countries. 

What can it give to Ukrainian producers?

– Again, new markets. You will have a new market, where you can send your products without taxes. Also by having the FTA, by having exchange between our businessmen coming closer one to another could mean, we can have growing cooperation not only in fields, listed in FTA, but in all other sectors. We can share not only the products, but the ideas.

Do you have some advises for Ukraine on how to doing business in conditions of uncertain security situation?

– We have an ongoing conflict for seventy years already and we still are doing business. So you don’t have to afraid the conflict, just go and do the business. If you have a good idea, it will be done. You have to think and to look forward. To take and develop your ideas, then you will achieve the results. Sometimes, for investors the problem is not in the conflict, but more in the regulation and the laws. If you will have a free market, if you have good laws, then I think investors will come. 

It could be useful for Ukraine to learn Israel’s experience on how to consolidate the society in conditions of ongoing long-term conflict. What could be that lessons?

– Democracy and freedom. Let the people speak free. That is what we are doing in Israel. Maybe it is annoying, some people don’t like this. But when you have free speech you will have a society which is consolidating. Free speech means that you see that the other is your brother and he has something to say. 

But how to divide free speech from hostile disinformation and propaganda?

– It is logical. But I think it is not up to the government, it is up to the people to understand the difference. I believe that the people are intelligent enough to see what is propaganda. Of course spreading of information should be ruled, it is ruled in Israel. You can not spread hate speech or ask to kill somebody or make defamation, for example. There are laws for those cases, which are protecting people, allowing them to speak freely but in the framework. 


Joel Lion was born in 1964 in France and raised in Esch-sur-Alzette in Luxembourg.He earned his B.A. in Political Sciences from Hebrew University in 1988, and received his M.A. in History from the University of Latvia in 1998. Currently he is a PhD candidate at the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology of Bar Ilan University. In 1999, he became the first Israeli official to partake in the mission of election monitoring with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. During operation “Cast Lead” in 2008, he worked as director in charge of the MFA Press Center in Sderot. He also served as Deputy Chief of Mission Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania at the Israeli Embassy in Riga. From 2011 to 2014, Lion served Consul-General of the State of Israel in Montreal.From 2014 to 2016, he was Director of the Public & Academic Affairs Department at the Media and Public Affairs Division of the Israeli Ministry of ForeignAffairs in Jerusalem. From 2016 to 2017 he served as the Special envoy for Holocaust issues and the return of Jewish assets from the Holocaust era. From 2017 to 2018, he served as the Chief of Diplomatic Staff of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. From August 2018 – Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the State of Israel to Ukraine. Lion served in the Israel Defense Forces and attained the rank of Sergeant-Major in the Artillery Corps. Author of multiple publications in fields of culture and history.

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