The Leader Who Needs No Title: Interview with Menachim Gantz

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Communication is one of the most important and influential human skills. Brands, businesses and even states need to share their views, stands, and principles in order for the world to make sense of them. For states, communication plays a major role in preserving world peace, developing relations and exchanging of views. In this issue of the Victor Magazine, we had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Menachem Gantz; the official spokesperson and the communication manager of Israel’s pavilion in Expo Dubai 2020. 

As Expo’s ultimate purpose is to bring the world together to share and raise mutual understanding, communication plays a major role in delivering a nation’s message. Once you meet with Mr. Gantz, you will immediately understand why Israel has chosen him to assume this vital role in its Expo’s pavilion. Having started his career as a journalist which ultimately led him to establishing himself as a senior correspondent for a top news agency in Israel to becoming advisor to Israel’s late president Shimon Peres. From providing extensive coverage of news, current affairs, economics and culture, to being the communication manager and spokesman for the Israeli Pavilion in Expo Dubai 2020. His extensive experience as journalist and correspondent inside and outside of Israel allowed him to be part of a lot of history making moments that he has generously shared with us in this interview.

Besides his exceptional experience and impressive biography, Mr. Gantz is gifted with a vibrant personality and charisma that compliments and reinforces his technical skills. We can see that he has made Israel’s voice heard in Dubai’s Expo and it gives us pleasure to have his voice heard and message delivered through Victor Magazine. Without any further ado, our valued readers … we give you Menachem Gantz.

  1. Having participated in two successive Expo’s (Milan and Dubai) how do you

 Describe a successful Expo?

There are many ways to evaluate the success of an Expo. One may think the organization, facility and number of participants are indicators for that, but I believe a successful Expo is the legacy the Expo leaves behind. What will the Expo be remembered for? 

Expo Milan will mainly be remembered in internal Italian’s view as the event which reconfirmed Milan, not only as the capital of the north of Italy but also as the country’s business capital. I believe Expo 2020 Dubai will leave a more substantial impact. Dubai was already considered one of the top leading cities globally, but hosting the World Expo and its 192 participating countries have positioned the city as the Middle East’s capital. Dubai has made history by gathering and welcoming all nations to its shores.

Expo 2020 Dubai will be remembered as a revolutionary event in Israel’s history and continuously improving relations with other countries in the region. For the first time ever, Israel is truly welcome in an Arab country and feels part of the region we belong to. It is a huge success, not only for Israel but also for the leaders of Dubai and the UAE who allowed this to happen, taking the responsibility to change history and gaining the respect of all countries.

Expo 2020 Dubai will always be remembered for its legacy and is definitely a very successful Expo.   

  1. Being one of the first Arab countries you visit, what are your impressions about the UAE

Wow — I love it. I continue to notice how similar we are and how what unites us is stronger than anything. You see, our pavilion is pointing out these elements. I hope the readers have already visited our pavilion. If not, you are most welcome to come and visit us. It is not by chance that we chose to present the desert’s sand dunes as topographic elements that are similar between the countries, or even the ARAVRIT font that combines Hebrew and Arabic. In the end, we share the same spirit. We chose “Toward Tomorrow” as our theme because we are looking forward to guaranteeing a better future for everyone. 

My Impression of the UAE is that it is a country welcoming people from different cultures. It is a young and dynamic society filled with creativity and a fun country to visit and live in. I can say the same things about Israel. 

  1. What are the activities/sites you advise Emirati tourists to visit in Israel?

There are so many places I consider a must visit in Israel that you might need a special edition of the magazine if I answer this thoroughly. Knowing it is only a three-hour flight away from Dubai, I am relieved because I know everyone who visits will likely come again and again.

If it is your first visit, I am sure the splendid spiritual atmosphere of Jerusalem and the old city will make you very emotional. I adore the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and would recommend it to any first-time visitor. I consider it one of the world’s leading museums and often visit it myself. One can dedicate an entire lifetime to the city of Jerusalem and still discover new facts, places and remarkable historical episodes.

Then there is Tel Aviv—my city—the city of freedom, art, design, and business. It’s a city that never stops. Cultural events, concerts, great restaurants and, of course, the beach. Tel Aviv can be considered as a sister to Dubai. 

One cannot leave Israel without experiencing the dead sea, visiting Galilee, or diving in Eilat at the red sea.

There is plenty to do in Israel considering its rich history, dynamic and vibrant present, and continuous innovation towards the future.  

  1. Being the official spokesman of the Israeli pavilion in Expo 2020, how do you describe the Israeli UAE interrelations development since the Abraham accords

I believe the facts are an answer in itself. Consider what has happened since the signing of the Abraham accords: nearly 500,000 Israelis have visited Dubai and the UAE in a year where it was not easy to travel. All Israeli Ministers are waiting for their turn to visit the Expo, getting to know their Emirate counterpart personally, and signing bilateral agreements with them in order to develop and increase collaboration. 

The Israeli enthusiasm is total and includes all parts of the Israeli society. What I am most happy about is that it is an agreement which does not belong to only the two governments nor is it only strategic or political. It is an agreement which the people genuinely welcome. I believe the people support it fully and are doing everything possible to make it even more successful. The business world has its own rhythm which never stops.

There are numerous collaborations in the medical, energy, environmental, cyber security, and even space. take for example the SPACE IL project led by the Chairman Morris Kahn. His initiative created a model for cooperation between the two peoples in many aspects — technological, scientific and educational — which will deepen the connection between the countries. Who could ever tell the Jewish state and an Arab country heading the space together?

This unity guarantees prosperity for the two countries and many times also saves lives. We are all proud of it, embrace it and encourage it.

5.Tell us about the highlights of your experience in Expo 2020?

With just over two months remaining, this experience is not over yet. There have been so many unforgettable moments that it is difficult to choose, but I would say the highlights can be described in one word, namely hope. 

Expo 2020 allowed me to get to know myself better. My mother was born in Baghdad and we are very proud of our origins. She is the last generation of Jews to be born in Iraq after 2,600 years of continuous presence in the country. 

In my family we can relate to the Iraqi culture, history, traditions, flavors and smells. I was born in Israel, but all my life this region which I belong to, did not fully accept me. I felt like a boy in the neighborhood playground who the kids did not want to play with, and suddenly they were welcoming him to play together. 

During the Expo I had the opportunity to meet people from different countries, including ones Israel does not have relations with. I often see hope in their eyes that a day will come when there will be peace between their country and Israel. At the same time, I felt there was a lot to learn from them and meeting them here was a unique occasion which filled me with hope.

These moments are some of my favorite highlights from Expo and I am grateful to the UAE for this opportunity. 

  1. In your opinion, what are the common factors between the Israeli and the UAE communities?

As mentioned before, the two countries have numerous things in common. We are both young countries who managed to flourish in a short period and difficult climate conditions.

I believe business people from both countries can also feel the similarities. There is a willingness to take reasonable risks in order to grow, both countries are dynamic, innovative, think outside the box to resolve difficult challenges, and have a lust for life. As much as I feel welcome here, and at home, I believe Emiratis visiting Israel will feel the same. 

  1. Being an experienced journalist in a number of fields including fashion, what is your impression about the fashion scene in Dubai and how different/similar is it from that of Tel Aviv?

I see Dubai as the fashion capital of the middle east. I found genius and creative designers in the city and must compliment the Victor Closet line at the last fashion show. It felt like being in Milan or New York. 

I had the opportunity to meet and interview the king Giorgio Armani, speak to Dolce & Gabbana and even Versace before he was assassinated. I saw the same passion here, if not more as Dubai is aiming for this recognition. 

Dubai has much to offer to Tel Aviv in that aspect. Many Israeli models are fit for the market Dubai is concentrating on and Dubai, in turn, can be a jumping point towards international success for them. In my opinion, Israeli designers will feel like Dubai is welcoming them to the region and that this is a place where they can create marvelous things. I am sure we will see amazing collaborations in the future. 

  1. What are your favorite spots in Dubai?

As I mentioned, I have Iraqi origins so my two favorite restaurants are Fnajeen Restaurant at the Pointe in Palm Jumeirah, and Samad Al Iraqi in Jumeirah Beach who both offer the best traditional Iraqi cuisine. My dear Iraqi friend, Haider, introduced me to both restaurants and I’ll always treasure the moments there with him. 

Al Habtoor city is my go-to destination for meetings or to catch up with friends. The Hilton Al Habtoor was the first hotel to introduce Kosher breakfast, making it a comfortable stay for many of my friends from around the world who are following Kosher regulations. 

Dubai’s openness and the fact the Jews can live here without fear warms my heart. It has positioned Dubai as an advanced and tolerant international city, something I am very happy for. 

  1. As you have been a close advisor to the late Israeli president Mr. Shimon Peres, can you describe in few words his vision for peace?

Shimon Peres: Statesman, Ninth President of the State of Israel, Prime Minister, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a man of action and vision.

Shimon Peres was a founding father of Israel. From the early years of its establishment, he was central in its defense and worked tirelessly for decades to promote peaceful relations within Israel and between Israel and its neighbors. He also led Israel to become a global technology and innovation powerhouse. 

For me, his vision is concentrated in two aspects: inspiring a man to dream and saving a child’s life.

I had the privilege and honor to be close to him for 17 years. He taught me and others that “there is no space for small dreams”. He urged me and the young generation to believe in the way we truly are willing to go and believed each of us can make a difference. I still carry his legacy with, even here in Dubai. 

I frequently tell other journalists that each of us has a responsibility to take action through our work. We were given the opportunity to guide the younger generation in a path of reconciliation, tolerance, and peace. It is our duty to make sure that our dreams become a reality. 

When Shimon Peres spoke of the new Middle East, based on economic collaborations between the countries in the region, many laughed at him and said that he is a dreamer. He never took that as an offence. He continued to dream even if his dream was only realized after he passed away.

The second point he wanted to be remembered for was his contribution to saving the lives of children. He dedicated time and effort to bringing children from Arab countries where the medical system was not as advanced to Israel. 

Just yesterday I heard about Faruk, a 14-year-old child from Iraq who was about to die because of heart complications. He was transferred to Israel, where his life was saved. This happened very recently and Shimon Peres paved the way for this to happen. 

  1. How did the relations between Israel and the Vatican start and can you tell us insights about the late Pope John Paul II visit to the holy land as the first pope ever making an official visit to Israel?

I can dedicate a book to this question.

I consider myself as a fortunate guy. I arrived in Rome for my university studies in 1994, the year Israel inaugurated the embassy to the Holy See, and I arrived in the UAE the year Israel inaugurated its embassy in Abu Dhabi. Those are two major events — the reconciliation between the church and the Jewish world, and the new relations with the Arab world. We needed strong leadership for both events, something the leaders of the UAE certainly are. Pope JP2 had the same charisma. He was born in Poland, and after 555 years of Italian popes, he came as a stranger to Rome, but he knew well what happened to his Jewish friends in school during the Holocaust. He was brave enough to present the Mea Culpa of the catholic church to the Jewish world. During the trip, I had the honor to cover his visit to Jerusalem as a journalist and consider it as one of the most cherished moments in my life. I hold my current experience in Dubai in the same regard.

Photos by : Lakshik Perera

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