(JollofNews) – The newly appointed Israeli ambassador to the Gambia has used his first newspaper interview since presenting his letters of credentials in the Gambia to express his impression with the West Africa country.
Ambassador Paul Hirschson, who represents the world’s only Jewish state, said despite the fact that 95 per cent of the Gambia’s 1.9 million citizens are Muslims who sympathises with the Palestinians, they were warmly welcoming of his presence.
“They were warmly welcoming of my presence,” he told the Times of Israel after concluding a three-day visit to the Gambia, the smallest state on continental Africa.
“They have good relations with the Palestinians and with the entire Arab and Muslim world, but they’re not shy to put a headline in the newspaper saying that the new Israeli ambassador was here and presented his credentials to the president.
Ambassador Hirschson added: “They’re absolutely not shy about their ties with Israel. The president told me, ‘If we didn’t want you here, you would not be presenting your letters of credentials.’ That’s a verbatim quote. He is fully aware that this is a public decision that he took.”
He added that during the course of his three-day visit in Banjul, he met Gambians on the streets who all knew that he represented Israel and were all friendly and forthcoming.
Ambassador Hirschson said during his meeting with President Jammeh, they discussed among other things, the current turmoil shaking the Middle East and large parts of Africa.
“He [President Jammeh] definitely told me that there is a hell of a lot of instability in our region and that we [Israel] should do our part to try to calm things down,” Hirschson said.
“This reflects a genuine concern not only in Gambia but across the region that there is some sort of instability overload, reaching from here [West Africa] to Iran, with a few islands of stability, including Israel. People are on edge about this.”
The president candidly told the Israeli envoy that while the Gambia and Israel are friends, Banjul does not always agree with all of Jerusalem’s policies.
According to Hirschson, President Jammeh holds both Israelis and Palestinians responsible for the deadlock in the peace process.
“He also has criticism about the Palestinians and the Arab world, and he voices that as well,” the Israeli envoy added.
“He said he is friends with both and that he’s neutral in the conflict. By that, I think he meant he supports both sides.”
With regard to Mr Jammeh declaring his country an Islamic republic, Ambassador Hirschson, who is also Israel’s ambassador to Senegal, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau, said he is convinced that the name change does not indicate a desire to become a more deeply religious or radical regime.
He added: “When we hear this term — Islamic state — it conjures all kinds of images of Iran and ISIS.This [Gambia] is no fundamentalist society by any means. They are religious and conservative, but they are also open and friendly and welcoming. Alcohol is being sold freely and tourists and women in bikinis walk around. There’s music in the streets and everybody is perfectly laid back.”
Citing President Jammeh, Ambassador Hirschson said the name change mainly served to distance the state from its colonial past — in 2013 Jammeh left the Commonwealth for the same reason — and to embrace the religious identity of a large majority of its citizens.