Israel’s divine diplomacy – i24news
Webster’s Dictionary defines isolationism as “the policy or doctrine that peace and economic advancement can best be achieved by isolating one’s country from alliances and commitments with other countries”. While this has never been a declared Israeli policy, many Israelis – political leaders, senior officials (including diplomats), and citizens – often express a yearning to just be left alone by the outside world. No one understands us anyway, they say, and the world’s attitude to us is systematically tainted by deep rooted animosity.
Recent developments in the Israeli Foreign Ministry seem to take this approach to a whole new level. At the first meeting with her staff, Tzipi Hotovely, freshly appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, delivered the following message: no need to be wise, being RIGHT is quite enough. What she meant was that the divine promise giving the people of Israel the land stretching from the Jordan River to the sea is far more powerful an argument than all the sophisticated posturing about security and international law that Israel had been practicing for years, mostly in order to please the world, as she put it. A few days later, acting Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sacked the ministry’s director general, a seasoned professional diplomat. He replaced him with his protégé, Dore Gold, who spent the best part of his career interpreting the texts relevant to the conflict in our area – UN resolutions, humanitarian law, universal conventions, previous agreements – and explaining how everyone had gotten them wrong, except for us.
It seems, therefore, that if in the past we had a hard time agreeing with other countries – including some of our closest allies – about the content of our dialogue, we will now no longer have a common language with which to conduct that dialogue. One wonders if Hotovely’s starry-eyed optimism about the power of a diplomatic case made on the basis of the biblical texts will work the miracle for which she hopes and if just being RIGHT, as she said, will suffice to turn around the entire world’s position towards Israeli policies. The same question can be asked about Gold’s reading of UN resolutions (they don’t mean Israel should withdraw from the occupied territories) or views on West Bank settlements (they are just fine under international law).
All this should come as no surprise. Most Israelis have never considered foreign relations as particularly important, even though they are obsessed with the way the world views our country. “Hasbara”, the untranslatable Hebrew term for PR-communication-branding-public affairs-public diplomacy-propaganda put together, is far higher on the agenda of our leaders than the well-being of our relations with the rest of the world. This may seem like a strange attitude on the past of a tiny nation located in a not-too-friendly neighborhood, but hey, there’s no shortage of paradoxes around here. Those who preach the building of alliances and strengthening of friendships with world powers are generally regarded as wimps who lack self-confidence and national pride.
The 34th Israeli government enters the arena of world diplomacy with quite a deficit: relations between the government and the White House in a state of deep freeze, growing impatience with Israel in the EU, already poised to take some uncomfortable initiatives, regional powers actually willing to discuss integrating Israel into new coalitions to face regional challenges but refusing to do so as long as the Palestinian issue is not resolved, and more.
The systematic dismemberment of the Foreign Ministry makes it quite clear that the people at the helm do not believe foreign relations are a fundamental component of Israel’s national security. Distributing responsibility for core issues such as strategic affairs, Iran, US affairs, the peace process and public diplomacy among six different ministers is no less than a farce. Netanyahu – who is the official Foreign Minister – holds some kind of mysterious grudge against this ministry. Faced with the choice between satisfying every demand for jobs by members of his coalition, and defending Israel’s national interests in the world arena, he did not even blink.
Originally it was said that the Prime Minister stubbornly refused to give the Foreign Affairs portfolio to the Likud party’s popular lawmaker Gilad Erdan, or to anyone else, so that he could tempt other parties with this plum job to join his government in the future. As it looks now, after leaving this top portfolio an empty shell, and Israel’s diplomacy in the hands of God, I wonder if anyone will even bother applying for the job.
Daniel Shek is an independent consultant and former ambassador of Israel in France.