The United Nations spends a disproportionate amount of time condemning Israel. So the Israeli representative to the international body has a lot of work to do and many speeches to give – inside and outside the hallowed halls.
From 2011 to 2015, that representative was Ron Prosor and from 2013 until 2015 – a time that included his J’accuse address to the UN General Assembly – his senior speechwriter was a Canadian with a zoology degree, Aviva Klompas.
In her latest book, Speaking for Israel, Ms Klompas provides anecdotes of her time with the Mission, posing the questions of how and why she ended up taking the under-paid and over-worked position. Indeed, in her first week of work, a colleague asked Klompas why she’d “leave a calm and comfortable job in Canada to work around the clock for one of the most unpopular countries in the world…. השתגעת [are you crazy]?”
Other than having found her way into the office of a Canadian politician, she never quite finds an answer to the ‘how’ question, admitting that she had to ask an intern to research how to become a speechwriter for an invited talk at the New York School.
The ‘why’ question becomes an even greater mystery as the pages turn. The humourous stories usually come with a strong dose of schadenfreude (in stereotypical Canadian fashion, often self-deprecating) and in others, you get a real sense of the immense pressure, recurring exhaustion, and numerous frustrations associated with the role.
Klompas describes her job interview where she was given 30 minutes to write an impromptu op-ed about Mali (of all things), writing “I didn’t understand this at the time of my interview, but there is a specific mindset needed to work for a nation constantly under attack… you can’t be easily deterred or succumb to situations that seem unfair or impossible…”
At one point, she describes a task as “like trying to play darts on a small ship being tossed around in an angry storm”, and Klompas gives numerous examples of the clash between the mild manners of Canada and the “loud, stubborn, demanding” nature of Israelis who “had an unnerving habit of saying exactly what was on their minds”.
There is an inescapable theme of continually being in situations that seem unfair or impossible – just like her interview. Klompas describes eventually filling her fridge with microwaveable meals and clearing her personal schedule as the Mission demanded so much – including calls from her boss as “ungodly-hour o’clock”.
Her boss, Proser, is known to have a penchant for cheesy one-liners and Churchill quotes but Klompas gives us more insight: he is also known by the nearby Starbucks baristas as “the Grande, single shot latte guy” and would treat his staff to a drink at the start or end of almost any outing.
This mix of exceptionally demanding and deeply warm is echoed in her descriptions of her other colleagues and the shared struggles often ended with at least one of “the three pillars of diplomacy – protocol, cholesterol, and alcohol”.
However, the book is not just a peek behind the curtains of the life of a speechwriter for Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations. It also highlights the hypocrisy of the UN, the mendaciousness of some journalists, and the other seemingly impossible struggles Israel has to contend with.
Speaking for Israel is an easy read peppered with undying truths too-often left out of the biased discourse around Israel. It will leave you feeling vicariously frustrated, exhausted, elated, and actually laughing out loud. But most of all, it will leave anyone who stands up for Israel feeling proud and inspired.
Hardcover: 256 pages