It was a cold Romanian November in1998 when I was on my way to the Israeli Embassy, in Bucharest, to meet my country’s Ambassador. At that time I was not used to meetings with officials, and I did not know what to expect. From time to time, I saw Ambassadors in the press and they always looked to me like machines, forever programmed to put on the correct diplomatic display of that was both acceptable for the press and also good for their career. So, I did not expect too much.

When I entered the Israeli Embassy and was greeted by the Ambassador, there was something in his expression that ’took me in’. He was smiling, he had kind eyes and his overall demeanor was very welcoming. He escorted me to his office where there was an atmosphere of calm, and coffee was served shortly afterwards. He asked his secretary to hold any phone calls and for the next 45 minutes it seemed to me that I was his only issue in his world….

I told him of my plan to start SOS MEDICAL which was very much in its embryonic stage. He sat with me and gave me a view of the business world as he knew it and difficulties being faced in Romania. But, in his words I could find all the needed promise for support that I was looking for. “If I can and when I can, I will help. “He said.

During the course of that year, I was busy establishing my new SOS MEDICAL enterprise.SOS was the first project I had started in Romania and which also immediately placed me on the list of experts in Medical Enterprise in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).

With my project I have received support, encouragement and the advice I needed, and so it took off. Onetime I told my business partner, Gen. Teitelbaum, about my exceptionally good meeting with Avi Millo, the Israeli Ambassador, and he asked me to set up an appointment for the next time he was due to visit Bucharest.

The subsequent meeting with the Israeli Ambassador was at his official residence. It was one of those architecturally unique and easily identified massive villas dating back to the era of the old Romanian regime. In addition to meeting the Ambassador, we also met Miriam, his wife. The evening went well and we were treated to the most delicious meal, during which, and for many hours afterwards, the conversation flowed freely. It was not until the small hours of the morning that the two of us left the Ambassador’s residence, and as we walked down the road Haim spoke to me with great enthusiasm.

“This couple is something else my friend.” He said. “They have impeccable manners, genuine style and class; they have high standards and an extremely profound knowledge about so much. However, more than anything, I am incredibly impressed with the level of empathy they have shown towards your project. I was so impressed with how much they seem to care and how important the success of your project has become to them. It is almost as if the project was their own.”

Ambassador Avi Millo was an experienced diplomat and professional statesman. He has served the State of Israel extremely well in the line of overseas and domestic duties and reached a level of seniority that would make any civil servant proud.

And what a unique diplomat he was. Avi Millo has natural born wisdom and a wealth of experience, he faced many professional challenges in the course of representing a country that has been in a state of war throughout almost all of his career. It has not always been easy to face the wave of criticism that was launched by the international arena against the state of Israel. Terrorism and anti-terror strikes against Israel have left some confusing images in the international media, and have sadly been all too frequent. Avi had to face the task of being the diplomatic representative of a state that was all too often accused of being an aggressor, whereas the truth will show that many times we were, in fact, the victim.

Saying goodbye to president Iliescu, Cotrocent Palace 2001
Saying goodbye to president Iliescu, Cotrocent Palace 2001.

As Avi was the Israeli Ambassador in Romania, I could see at first hand the challenges and frustrations of this position. At the back of this, the trade relationship between Romania and Israel has started to expand rapidly, and Israeli trade interests were often channeled through the Ambassador’s office in the Embassy. He was very kind and helpful to businessmen who came with clever entrepreneurial ideas and honest intentions, but at the same time, there were cases where he suspected that there we some “tricky” projects designed to create tax shelters or projects that would not serve the image of the Israeli state particularly well. In those cases, he knew how to avoid any involvement and would gently and politely reject any request for official assistance.

Visit of PM Adrian Nastase in Israel, 2001.
The visit of President Constantinescu, and the President Palance in Jerusalem, Israel.

Those professional principles have allowed Avi to become widely accepted, respected and appreciated by the Romanian administration. Radu Vasile, Romania’s late Prime Minister, became a great friend of the state of Israel, and was supportive of the effort to cement a mutual friendship and the creation of a political bond between the two countries. Today, I can definitely say that Vasile saw the reality and complexity of international dilemmas involving Israeli politics through the many conversations and private talks he held with Avi. Romania became a close ally of the State of Israel in the international arena, and that came from a comprehensive learning and a deep understanding of the national cause of our country.

With Prime Minister Radu Vasile.

In latter years, Radu Vasile no longer held official office, but he still kept in close contact with Avi, so much so that in his last days he was assisted by Israeli doctors. Upon his death, both the State of Israel and Avi lost a great friend. But Radu Vasile was not alone in his warm approach to Avi. Traian Basescu, who is now the President of Romania, was then serving as the Mayor of Bucharest. Basescu was also a frequent visitor to the Ambassador’s residence.

Mrs. Miriam Millo, the dear wife of Avi, was such a perfect partner for him, holding an approach and having opinions which perfectly counterbalanced his. She always had opinions of her own, and her presence was always felt, but only ever in a good way. During my years spent in Europe, I had the occasional opportunity to meet with some Ambassadors and their wives, but the role of the wife was often not very clear to them, and they could very easily cross that fine line when beside their husband at meetings and events where their husbands had an official role. Miriam understood her role perfectly, providing support and balance in such a way as to complement Avi and make him an even better person; she was very often “there״, but always in a kind, supportive and elegant manner.

Avi was born in Tel Aviv and studied in state religious schools. He is religiously orthodox, one of the few in the Israeli diplomatic service. He was privileged to be the political secretary of foreign minister Ygal Alon, director of various departments in the foreign ministry and senior diplomat in the embassies in South Africa, the UK, and the mission to the UN in Geneva and, after returning from Bucharest, he was appointed Inspector General of the Israeli Foreign Service.

After his army service ended (1962) he spent a year at New York University studying the art of Radio, Television & Motion pictures (he once told me that it was not just pure studies while he was there, and that at university social events he was one of the best twist dancers…)

Many years have passed and I have kept in regular contact with Miriam and Avi. The couple lives in their Jerusalem located residence and Avi, although retired, is still active in several community and Jewish-Romanian affairs. Avi is my friend and I get continual evidence of this from the conversations we occasionally have on the Skype, or face to face. He prefers to become deeply involved with issues that are on the agenda of his friends, always asking and remembering the items discussed and topics covered in previous talks. Avi will not start a conversation about his own issues unless you are really insistent and manage to convince him your interest is genuine and heart-felt. He will scan the issues, offer and advise, and make himself available for help if needed. His connections and other friends are one big network as Avi had his own personal‘Facebook’ long before it was ever invented.

In all the years I have known him, I have found Avi to be an honest and generous friend.Honest? I have both know of situations where Avi has terminated a friendship or relationship over principles and an apparent lack of integrity. Avi has known some people who, through his honest but naive approach, he considered close and they were in his close circle of friends. Some of them have swiftly found themselves no longer in that circle, usually dismissed without hesitation, as a result of an incident or event which challenged Avi’s honour, beliefs or even position. If you crossed the line, you were out! But within the boundaries of what is allowed, Avi is all yours. Tell him the truth, convince him that your issue is for a good cause, or simply ask for his help and you will get it.

Avi is a modest man who never accepts any kind of merit or acknowledgement for his deeds. Helping and promoting your interests, as long as they are well intentioned and based on good faith, is his way of living.

Next: Prof. Michael Stark