Tzipi Hotovely starts every day with an Arabic coffee and a smoothie. As Israel’s ambassador to the UK, every day is a big day – and she needs to start it right.
“We have a smoothie with all the greens, from spinach to parsley. It’s something we started when we moved to London.”
A politician in diplomatic clothing, Hotovely was appointed to the role of ambassador in August 2020. As Likud’s former settlements minister, this is her first position as a diplomat. It is also the first time that she, with her family, has lived abroad.
“I like to work, so I work a lot,” she says. “We want to meet people, engage and experience London.”
When she took on the job, she was excited. She was looking forward to meeting key figures to further bilateral relations between the UK and Israel. With her family, she hoped to visit places with “significant meaning”, from Westminster Hall to the Churchill War Rooms.
As an Orthodox woman, she also intended to immerse herself in Jewish studies and attend services at a variety of synagogues to connect to the British Jewish community. She even enrolled her three daughters in a Jewish school.
But life in the UK is not what she expected.
As an ambassador under lockdown, most of her pre-arranged meetings with communal leaders, fellow diplomats and politicians have turned into online calls over Zoom. While she has met foreign secretary Dominic Raab, she is yet to meet Boris Johnson or the Queen for the traditional ceremonial welcome.
She has taken part in online events, from Chanukah lightings to round-table talks on health policies, including areas of collaboration between the UK and Israel on vaccinations. But it cannot compare with in-person meetings, she says.
“Not meeting people has been a dramatic change. You cannot do the work you need to do online. Diplomacy needs a personal connection, real interaction. The real work will start when the world opens.”
For now, she is doing her best. “We connect by saying we ‘hate Zoom’,” she laughs. “After we say this, we become best friends.”
In Israel, Ambassador Hotovely had a fast-paced lifestyle. But now she has also taken the time to listen to music, watch series such as The Crown and read.
“I was never at home,” says the former chair of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women. “I used to live in the Knesset. I was always at work. As a politician, I used to come home to sleep. The only real time I spent at home was during Shabbat.”
Now, the pandemic has forced the ambitious ambassador to slow down.
Since moving to London, she has spent more time with her husband, a media executive, and their three daughters, aged seven, four and two.
“Now we have more quality family time. We have a family dinner every evening. The girls have also got into cooking, becoming sous chefs.”
As Israel’s first Orthodox female minister, Hotovely was committed to sending her children to a Jewish school when they moved to London.
She says: “There were no other options. I wanted my girls to be at a Jewish school, we are an Orthodox family. I am so happy with the education they are receiving, it really gets the spirit of Israel and it has a lot of Hebrew.”
But there have been challenging moments. In Israel, the children had friends and were familiar with her work. “I used to take them to see the prime minister,” she laughs. “They had a very high-level life.”
In the UK, they have been able to go to school as Hotovely is classified as a key worker but they have had limited interaction with other children. Describing the girls as “born and bred sabras,” she says: “Their English is very basic, but they are still young, they will learn.”
She adds: “School has been empty so they have not got many friends and have lost interest. Children are quick to learn but it is the social part we miss.”
For now, they have each other as a family.
Hotovely has made the ambassadorial residence feel more like their “home” by playing music. She used to play the piano, but now enjoys listening to classical music and Israeli artist Amir Dadon. Meanwhile, her husband plays the piano and guitar and enjoys listening to jazz. “We really hope music will come to our lives again,” she says.
They both share a passion for reading and have filled the residence with books – some bought, some gifted.
“The thing that makes us feel at home is our books,” she says. “We love reading.”
Hotovely has recently finished the biography of US vice-president Kamala Harris. “She sounds wonderful, I like her a lot,” she says. “She is a real inspiration for women and a great role model. She has a fascinating life story.”
She adds: “I read a lot. I like to read things about British politics, I find it fascinating. I find the leaders interesting.”
One such former leader is Margaret Thatcher. Hotovely even empathises with the late prime minister’s passion for politics.
“Even though she was criticised for many things, Margaret Thatcher was a leader, she had an ideology. This is something we need to see more of in politics. She was an ideological player in world politics, she created a global role for Britain. She did a good job in making Britain a historic bridge between Europe and the USA.”
She asks if I have watched The Crown. “There is a great scene where Gillian Anderson, playing Margaret Thatcher, is filmed leaving Downing Street. The Queen looks at her and says she should have some hobbies – but she tells her politics is her passion.”
At this, Hotovely lights up. “Any politician will say politics is their hobby,” she continues. “My hobbies are politics, diplomacy and Israel. Israel is my real passion. I represent an amazing miracle. I am so fortunate that my job fills me with enthusiasm.”
Aged 42, she is not yet eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine under UK government rules. As a result, in February, she travelled to Israel with her husband to take her first jab at a hub set up in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. “It was the biggest moment that lasted a few seconds,” she says.
She is preparing herself for the next jab. In her suitcase, she has packed a copy of Steve Richards’ The Prime Ministers: reflections on leadership from Wilson to Johnson.
Soon, she hopes the community will also be able to also travel to Israel. “As soon as possible, I hope the skies will open,” she says. “I hope people can spend their summer vacations in Israel.”
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