Larry Luxner

In wake of Gaza tragedy, Thai diplomat wins coveted award

Yitzhak Eldan, president of the Ambassadors' Club of Israel, congratulates Pannabha Chandraramya, Thailand's ambassador to Israel, on her selection as the club's 'Diplomat of the Year.' (ACI)
Yitzhak Eldan, president of the Ambassadors' Club of Israel, congratulates Pannabha Chandraramya, Thailand's ambassador to Israel, on her selection as the club's 'Diplomat of the Year.' (ACI)

HERZLIYA—The Hamas bloodbath on Oct. 7 that sparked Israel’s current war in Gaza — now nearly nine months old — wasn’t a tragedy just for Jews and Israelis.

Among the 1,200 people killed that day were 39 citizens of Thailand, employed largely as agricultural workers in the border communities ravaged by Hamas terrorists and even ordinary Gazans. Another 23 Thais were injured, while 31 were kidnapped and taken to Gaza as hostages.

It was the latest and worst crisis to confront Pannabha Chandraramya, Thailand’s ambassador to Israel. In the wake of the unprecedented attack, she and her staff immediately sprang into action, quickly organizing the repatriation of 7,470 Thai citizens on 35 chartered flights from Tel Aviv to Bangkok. At least 1,000 of those Thai workers had lived in kibbutzim or moshavim bordering Gaza and Lebanon.

“Very few ambassadors find themselves dealing with such catastrophic situations in their careers,” said Yitzhak Eldan, president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel (ACI). “Only the most professional will succeed.”

On July 1, in recognition of that professionalism, the club named Chandraramya its 2024 “Diplomat of the Year.”

About 100 diplomats, business executives and other dignitaries gathered at Herzliyya’s Teo Cultural Center for the annual awards reception, which also marked ACI’s 13th anniversary. The audience included at least 15 Tel Aviv-based ambassadors from countries ranging from China to Zambia.

Yitzhak Eldan, president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, addresses the audience at a July 1 event in Herzliyya.

“Our ceremony takes place while Israel is at war, and while 120 Israelis and foreigners are held hostage by Hamas terrorists,” Eldan said, with Chandraramya at his side. “Her exemplary performance in the face of the tasks she had to handle as a result of the many Thai nationals murdered and taken hostage made her our natural choice for this award.”

Added Gil Haskel, the country’s chief of state protocol: “Our hearts went out to you on this horrible year for you as ambassador, and as a Thai national. Thailand could not have expected a better ambassador than you to lead in these very challenging times.”

In her acceptance speech, Chandraramya said she was “deeply humbled” by the honor.

“This is not my achievement alone. There are many others who deserve to share this award,” she said. “Even during this most challenging and difficult time, several embassy projects were made possible by the support and cooperation of our wonderful partners. We worked hand in hand to promote people-to-people contact and strengthen relations between our two countries.”

Chandraramya earned a bachelor’s degree in German language from Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, and a master’s degree in political science from Ramkamhaeng University.

A career diplomat since 1990, she has been posted to Thai embassies and consulates in Germany, India, Norway and Switzerland. Chandraramya also served as deputy director-general of the Thai Foreign Ministry’s Department of European Affairs.

From left: Meni Benish, honorary consul of Georgia; Yitzhak Eldan, president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel; Pannabha Chandraramya, Thailand’s ambassador to Israel; and Ytzhak Bejerano, chairman and CEO of Readymix Industries (Israel) Ltd.

“Our relations have flourished into something unique and special, embracing politics, economics, science and technology,” she said. “I consider myself very fortunate to be the ambassador here in Israel. This is because many Israelis that I meet often share their fond memories of Thailand. This award is a testament to our enduring friendship.”

Previous ambassadors to win the Diplomat of the Year award include the European Union’s Emanuele Giaufret (2018); Paraguay’s Max Haber (2021); and Bahrain’s Khaled Yousef Al Jalahma and Morocco’s Abderrahim Beyyoudh (2022).

Symbolism ran deep at Tuesday’s event. Rotem Sharabi, 20, whose two uncles were kidnapped from Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct. 7, sang a song, Noiya’s Sunshine, that she wrote for her best friend, who was murdered that day. And to mark the ACI’s 13th anniversary, a local rabbi blew a traditional shofar, and performer Lital Pe’er sang Happy Birthday on stage.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog offered his congratulations to Chandraramya in a recorded video message played during the ceremony.

“The deep ties our nations share were imprinted on Oct. 7, as 39 Thai nationals were murdered and more than 30 were abducted into Gaza,” Herzog said. “We call on every diplomat of every nation to follow your lead. I’m also happy we have signed an agreement on more employees in agriculture—a sign of overcoming victory against our enemies.”

Local rabbi blows a traditional shofar to celebrate the 13th anniversary of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel.

This past March, Israel and Thailand marked 70 years of diplomatic ties with a tree-planting ceremony in the Ben Shemen Forest that was sponsored by the Jewish National Fund.

The two countries have had a thriving economic relationship; Israel ranks as Thailand’s 40th largest trading partner, and the sixth largest in the Middle East. In the first eight months of 2023, according to official statistics, bilateral trade came to $857 million, with Thai exports to Israel at $546 million. In addition, Thailand is an extremely popular destination for Israeli tourists, with a record 209,320 visiting the country in 2023, up 61% from the 124,246 who visited in 2022.

Chandraramya, noting that six Thai nationals are among those still being held in Gaza, said that today, some 35,000 Thais are working in Israel—even more than the 30,000 who were in the country on Oct. 7—thanks to a recent agreement between the two governments.

Nevertheless, the predominantly Buddhist country has strived to maintain neutrality when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 2012, Thailand recognized Palestinian statehood, and five years later it rejected the Trump administration’s endorsement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Thailand has a significant Muslim minority in its southern region, near the Thai border with Malaysia—forcing Bangkok to maintain a delicate balancing act.

“For decades, southern Thailand has been home to a simmering Malay Muslim separatist movement, which seeks independence from the Thai state,” according to an Oct. 24 article in The Diplomat. “Given this ongoing conflict, Thailand has a vested interest in avoiding anything that inflames the security situation, especially concerning international issues involving Muslim-majority nations, such as the Gaza conflict.”

Besides Chandraramya, the ACI awarded certificates of excellence to two other dignitaries: businessman Meni Benish, Tbilisi’s Georgian-born honorary consul in Israel, and Ytzhak Bejerano, chairman and CEO of Readymix Industries Israel, a subsidiary of Mexico’s Cemex.

Also recognized were three ACI staffers: CEO Itsik Kamilian; Reut Portugal, the club’s director of external relations; and Dana Schwartzberg, its business development manager.

Freelance journalist Larry Luxner; Yitzhak Eldan, president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel; and Reut Portugal, the club’s director of external relations.
About the Author
Miami native Larry Luxner, a veteran journalist and photographer, has reported from more than 100 countries in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia for a variety of news outlets. He lived for many years in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the Washington, D.C., area before relocating to Israel in January 2017.
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