Neil Wigan’s Hectic Days in Tel Aviv

His schedule is packed but there’s never a dull day for Neil Wigan, the British ambassador to Israel. He gives the lowdown on his life in Israel


In many ways my diplo­matic career started right here in Israel, 15 years ago, when I was appointed as the embassy’s head of political section, as my first overseas job, during the Second Intifada. This makes my return to Israel so much more meaningful.

The best morning was my first in the office, Friday 14 June. I had barely found my desk before I was at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade on our very own embassy float, going along the beach past 250,000 people. It was the best way to start a day, and a tour.

The most difficult was when PM Netanyahu met Boris Johnson in London. We put it together at short notice at a very busy time for both (Israeli elections and Brexit). But it all came together and the visit went well.

I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful official residence just outside Tel Aviv with an amazing garden, that also reflects UK-Israel relations. Big beautiful Mediterranean trees alongside English rose bushes. This is where we at the embassy host our events and entertain our guests, and it’s the best scenery for my morning coffee or tea.

My days are packed – and that’s how I like it. I spend as little time as possible at my desk, and as much as possible out and about. I always prefer to meet people where they work, or anywhere they prefer, as I believe it enables a more genuine discussion.

No two days are alike, which is part of why I enjoy diplomatic work so much. Our work in Israel ranges from security cooperation to technology and research to looking after British citizens. New opportunities and ideas for collaborations come up daily. Israel is small enough to travel around easily – from going down to Gaza or up to the Lebanon border. I’ve gone everywhere from science labs and hi-tech start-ups in Haifa to meeting Bedouin in the Negev desert – I’ve even been to a prison.

I think many parts of the world are struggling with division and seclusion. But at the end of the day, we, the international community, have to work together to achieve our mutual values and goals of regional peace, climate-change action and human rights.

I think that, on top of our shared history, what makes our connection special is the match between British deep roots in trade, diplomacy and academia and Israeli entrepreneurship, creative thinking and determination. These assets spark great collaborations in research, innovation, culture and much more. And we’re just a short flight apart, which makes our relations fairly easy to maintain.

I would like to deepen our collaboration with specific sectors in Israel. We are already powering the Arabtech port aimed at entrepreneurs in the Israeli Arab community. We are working with Bizmax, an accelerator for Haredi entrepreneurs who have presented their start-ups to the UK tech scene. Security cooperation is developing rapidly – I had the opportunity to watch an RAF fighter jet land at an Israel Air Force base for the first time since Israel’s independence.

There is an amazing amount to see and do in such a small country – from Biblical sites and archaeology to hiking in the Negev desert or Galilee. And the food scene in Israel is really superb, from street food to high-end chefs. Daily life here is both very intense and very vibrant, which I find quite exhilarating.

24th January 2020