Israel has recalled its ambassador to Australia to investigate racial comments he reportedly made about Asians
Ambassador Naftali Tamir was believed to have been in Singapore on his way to Australia after a short holiday in Israel, when he received instructions to return immediately.
In an interview with the widely circulated daily, Haaretz, last week, Mr Tamir allegedly said Israel and Australia needed to co-operate because they were like sisters in Asia. "We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don't have yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are not — we are basically the white race," he was quoted as saying.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said in Jerusalem last night his ministry was checking whether the comments as reported were accurate.
"As they stand, they are obviously unacceptable and problematic," Mr Regev said.
An inquiry was under way, he said.
Mr Tamir issued a statement of denial in yesterday's edition of Ma'ariv.
Mr Tamir is a career diplomat who has served in Finland, Europe and America. He has been in Australia for about a year.
The executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, Colin Rubenstein, said Israel's Foreign Ministry had done the right thing in recalling Mr Tamir.
"I think it is appropriate that they are obviously taking this very seriously … and to ascertain what he said, and how they will react subject to that inquiry, so that's to be welcomed," he said.
The council's director of policy analysis, Ted Lapkin, said if the comments were reported accurately, they were unacceptable by any standard and called for a harsh response.
Mr Tamir had been on a two-week holiday to Israel, coinciding with a Jewish holiday period, Mr Rubenstein said.
He had been a reasonably active ambassador and was fairly prominent commenting on the war in Lebanon.
Israel sent charge d'affaires Irit Lillian to fill in for Mr Tamir because the embassy is without a deputy head of mission until next month.
Mr Tamir is also ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Zealand, where diplomatic relations were restored last year after Israel formally apologised over an incident in which two alleged Mossad agents tried to obtain New Zealand passports fraudulently in 2004.
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