Every year the Israeli foreign ministry holds its annual conference in late December/early January where Israeli ambassadors from around the world return home to talk about their experiences abroad.
And every year we hear sensible things from them, which the government ignores.
This year the Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, publicly asked the head of the National Security Council, Yaakov Amidror, about the logic of the government’s decision to build in Jerusalem’s E1 section. According to Yediot Ahronot, as soon as Ambassador Prosor asked this question, others in the room erupted in applause as a sign of support. The same report quotes Amidror saying in response: “If you don’t like the government’s policies, either resign or go and join a political party.”
Yediot Ahronot’s Itamar Eichner goes on to say that Israeli diplomats are sick and tired of apologizing in front of the world for Netanyahu and Liberman’s actions.
And they must be. I really do not envy the job of Israel’s diplomats. I believe that they are very well qualified and work extremely hard. They try to do their utmost to do a good job and we are lucky to have them. Nevertheless I would not want to be an Israeli diplomat. The reason is simple: they are paid 5,000 shekels a month ($1,400) when serving at home, which all of them must do between stints. Its a miserly sum and an overwhelming number of them suffer financially. They are mostly ignored. In comparison to the defense ministry, the government treats the foreign ministry as if it were its water boy. The defense ministry gets far more budgetary allocation, its staff are paid twice as much if not more and its voice is far stronger than that of the foreign ministry.
You might say: well, what do you expect? Israel is surrounded by enemies. It needs to have a strong army.
Yes, but. And the but here is that recent experience has shown that not all our problems can be solved by our air force and army.
Lets take the recent Gaza war as an example. Israel managed to achieve its goal of stopping rocket fire without having to launch a land invasion. Why? because through diplomatic cooperation with the Egyptians and the Americans it was able to place enough pressure on Hamas to agree to a ceasefire.
This is what happens when we use our diplomatic muscle wisely.
And when we don’t? Well, lets look at the recent Palestine UN vote. Israel’s alleged nuclear submarines, missiles, 600 fighter jets plus thousands of tanks did not help a bit. We were trounced by the PLO who is less than a military minnow compared to Israel. The world (except for nine countries) supported them.
And yes, nine countries supported us. America and Canada did so because of their Jewish communities who care deeply for Israel. And the Czech Republic supported us because they have bad memories of Arafat supporting their oppressive Communist government during the Soviet times. Apart from that we were supported by Palau, Panama, the Marshall islands and Micronesia. This result is shameful and it’s because of government policies. You could be an Israeli diplomat and speak five different languages, each with a local accent. But that’s not going to be enough to justify mind bogglingly self destructive Israeli government policies to the world. For example, how could any person of sound mind justify the Israeli government decision to withhold Pasta from being imported by Gaza business people to feed Gazan families because of the siege. How on earth could a diplomat have justified such an act to their local host in any language, without turning bright red with shame?
And that restriction was only lifted after the Mavi Marmara fiasco. The foreign ministry also warned the government by saying the ship should not be boarded in international waters and that this should only happen if the ship enters territorial waters. Guess what? That advice was ignored too and we saw how the world reacted to the government’s wisdom.
Israel is a democracy and the the job of its democratic institutions is to carry out the will of its elected politicians. I am not saying that the foreign ministry should not carry out government orders. What I am saying is that our leaders must listen to our diplomats. The ground beneath us is shaking yet our politicians prefer to ignore what is happening around us. They prefer to listen to the voice of extremists in the settlement of Yitzhar than our diplomats. The proof is in the pudding: look at the government’s current policies. We can’t go on like this. I sometimes ask myself: if we didn’t have the support of AIPAC, where would we be diplomatically? who would listen to us?
This is a country, not a military base. Our foreign ministry should have at least the same weight as the defense ministry, if not more. Not all of Israel’s external problems can be solved by our 18-year-olds risking their lives on the front line.
These days, when it comes to solving many of our external problems, the pen is mightier than the sword. We need more powerful and influential diplomats, and more pens.