When he was four years old, Daniel Shapiro’s family traveled to Israel. This was 1973, the same year as the Yom Kippur War between Israel, Syria and Egypt.
“We lived through this experience, we spent the nights in the bomb shelters,” explained Shapiro, “We saw how Israelis were fighting for their country, and it developed a strong bond between our family and Israel.”
In 2011, Shapiro was appointed Ambassador to Israel by President Barack Obama. He held this role until 2017, and now works as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute of National Security Studies. Shapiro’s position as ambassador was the culmination of a process spanning multiple decades.
At ages five and six he was a peacemaker and a problem solver on the playground.
“My parents tell me that they could identify the qualities of a diplomat in me even as a young boy,” Shapiro explained.
An internship in the state department while Shapiro was in graduate school let him to pursue diplomacy and policy development. He was a policy advisor for Congress, worked for the Clinton Administration and then met Senator Barack Obama. Shapiro worked with Obama through the 2008 campaign, and then was the President’s Middle East advisor.
“It was only while doing that job, which had sort of been the dream job when I was in grad school,” said Shapiro, “…that I started to think that I could make an even greater contribution.”
As Middle East advisor, Shapiro developed a positive relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Due to his ability to speak Hebrew and Arabic, he could try to explain Obama administration policies to the Israeli public.
Shapiro explained, “It was only when we reached that point that I understood that I’d really been preparing for that job my whole life.”
This appointment had Shapiro and his family moving to Israel with his wife, Julie Fisher, and their daughters – this led to the largest culture shock he experienced.
“Israeli parents gave their children far more freedom of movement, of speech maybe, freedom of devising their own social schedules, than American parents,” said Shapiro.
His daughters started to ask, “Why are you such American parents?” until the Shapiros changed their methods. Thus, Shapiro characterizes the biggest cultural difference as being familial, especially because he had known Israel very well before becoming ambassador.
Shapiro’s most difficult moment as ambassador came when Netanyahu decided to speak to Congress against the Iran Nuclear Deal. The United States had coordinated very closely with Israel on the deal, but as negotiations with Iran became serious, the United States and Israel had different definitions of acceptable outcomes. Eventually, the deal was passed – although Trump would later withdraw the U.S. from it – despite Netanyahu’s talk.
“That was a very tough moment,” Shapiro explained, “Because it really embodied a breakdown of communication and trust between allies.”
While at times he faced significant challenges, Shapiro also experienced very successful moments of diplomacy as ambassador. In 2013, President Obama visited Israel and gave a successful talk to Israeli young people. The emphasis of Obama’s talk was that “Peace with Palestinians is just, possible and necessary.”
Additionally, during this visit the administrations launched negotiations that led to a 10-year military assistance deal between the U.S. and Israel, signed in 2016.