Interview with departing Ambassador Kirsikka Lehto-Asikainen

Ambassador Kirsikka Lehto-Asikainen will finish her term in Israel in August after four and a half years in the country with her family. In this interview, Ambassador Lehto-Asikainen describes her time in Israel and her future plans.


What did you know about Israel before your arrival?

I knew quite a lot because I was Director in the Unit of the Middle East and North Africa in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Finland and had visited Israel several times and already knew some local colleagues.

Israel is known as a dynamic place with much going on all the time, but what were the highlights of your term?

There are many unforgettable moments, but the visit of the President of Finland, Mr. Sauli Niinistö, in Israel in 2020 was important. President Niinistö participated in the International Holocaust Forum and met with President Rivlin as well. Fortunately, the visit took place just before the pandemic started. Therefore, we could launch the celebration of 70 years of diplomatic relations between Finland and Israel with President Niinistö. Because of the pandemic, the other Embassy events for this occasion were moved online, but regardless, they succeeded, I would say, brilliantly, considering the circumstances. A significant moment while being in Israel was also the signing of the Abraham Accords agreement. Visits to the Arab sector in Israel are also part of our work. We were here also when the Gaza escalation took place in May 2021. Overall, Israel is a highly interesting place and region for diplomats with both opportunities and challenges.

How would you characterize the relationship between Finland and Israel?

The relationship between the countries is good and multifaceted, although the pandemic and several elections had an impact on ministerial visits. The commercial activities are focusing on various technology sectors, for example, health, energy and circular economy. A growing area has been defense cooperation. In the cultural sector, there have been visits of high-level artists in the field of music as well as education professionals, and one of our key themes, we maintain, is equality. The country brand of Finland is good in Israel, and people say “Great!” when they hear you come from Finland. The female politicians have received lot of attention, and Finnish nature and education are well-known. We expect to have more tourists in both directions. Also, there are connections on a people-to-people level, including civil society.

What do you think about the current situation in Israel?

Personally, I have to say I am a worried about what is happening. I hope all the best for this country and its people. I feel close to the country, having lived here for over four years.

Almost five years is a long time. What do you think you will miss from Israel and is there something that will remain with you from here?

There are many friends and colleagues whom I will miss, as well as the warm climate and the nature in its different forms. Also, the atmosphere of the country, where things are happening “bli hafsaka” (constantly). I enjoyed some cooking courses and I will definitely take local recipes back to Finland with me. Also, the Shabbat dinner tradition was appealing as families come together. Perhaps we will start doing regular Sunday lunches with the family in Finland. But maybe not every week (laughs). 

What is your favorite place in Israel?

There are so many. I love our daily walks with our dog at the Herzliya beach. Israel has an amazing nature and the biblical sites are special, too. And Tel Aviv is so vibrant. I have also gone horseback riding in different places in the country, for example, at the beach in Caesarea and part of the Jesus trail in Galilee, as riding has been my long-term hobby. I had my own horse in Israel, and I competed in show jumping here. So, horse stables were my favorite places here, too.

What have you missed from Finland?

Perhaps such things are tranquility, nature and the Finnish summer food, like ”gravlax” or smoked salmon, herring and new summer potatoes. As they are traditional food, of course our residence kitchen has prepared them for us and our guests, too.

What will you do in Finland when you go back?

I will enjoy the remaining holiday time with family and friends before continuing the work at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. My younger son starts Finnish high school. Although it is sad to leave, I hope there will be a chance to visit Israel soon again. A big thanks—toda raba—also to the whole Finnish Embassy team, it has been such a pleasure to work together to promote Finland and Finnish-Israeli relations! We did it together!