Tova Herzl

Who does Bibi think he’s hurting when he tells the embassy not to help Gantz?

I used to work at the Israeli DC embassy, so I can tell you how impossible it is for the diplomatic corps to do its job when it's cut out of the loop
Illustrative. Then-defense minister Benny Gantz (left) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet at the White House in Washington, May 19, 2022. (Shmulik Almany/ GPO)
Illustrative. Then-defense minister Benny Gantz (left) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet at the White House in Washington, May 19, 2022. (Shmulik Almany/ GPO)

The standing of an ambassador and of his diplomatic mission are determined by his perceived proximity to the leaders of the country which sent him, and to the level of his contacts in his country of service. While time and effort are required to establish a professional reputation, it can be destroyed in the blink of an eye, as is happening now, with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s instructions to the Israeli embassy in Washington not to cooperate with the visit of Minister Gantz.

Commentators who analyze the situation focus on the relations between both men and on the future of the coalition. Having worked in that embassy, my thoughts are with the dedicated staff, on the awkward situation, and especially on the damage to the embassy’s future ability to function as it ought.

In efficient Washington, every meeting has a clear purpose. Those requesting them are asked to detail the subject, and staff do not hesitate to say that it is not interesting, or that 10 minutes will be allocated. It happened that I asked to talk to a legislator and was told that I could walk with her from her office to another building on Capitol Hill. If time is a rare commodity in the capital of the free world, then knowledge is its currency. You are not in the loop? You are irrelevant. We will smile at you and carry on because we do waste time.

Two important if unglamorous parts of a diplomat’s role are preparing a visiting dignitary’s meetings, and reporting back home.

Any minister, however wise, cannot be familiar with the details of all the subjects at hand, or know precisely how to approach a local interlocutor. For that, the embassy has well-informed staff whose job is to gather information and brief the visitor, and so ensure effective and efficient use of the visit. Who will perform these tasks during the Gantz visit? American officials? Jewish organizations?

Immediately after such a meeting, one of the participating diplomats returns to the embassy and sends a detailed report home. Summaries are not designed to serve future historians but to provide tools for action – any reader who has managed a business or an organization knows the importance of a record. Apparently, this will not happen during the upcoming visit of a member of Israel’s war cabinet, even as the war continues.

A meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris has been scheduled. Whether or not President Biden will reach out and stroll over, undoubtedly Gantz will have important meetings. The embarrassed embassy will have to scavenge for crumbs of information about them, possibly from the visitor’s entourage, maybe from his American interlocutors.

It is to be hoped and assumed that Gantz will tell Netanyahu what was discussed, and that decisions will be followed up with relevant American players. Who will have received second-hand information, if at all? Those very emissaries who were sent abroad due to their professional skills, and whose humiliation is collateral damage of a political situation.

It may well be that Gantz’s decision to travel to America does not follow official guidelines. Did the prime minister’s orders to the embassy undercut Gantz’s status? Probably not. Did they make Netanyahu seem petty and vengeful? Possibly. But to me, their main significance lies in undermining the status of Israel’s most important embassy and the willful damage to its ability to function properly at a time of unprecedented challenges.

Netanyahu began his climb to the top as deputy ambassador in Washington. Has he forgotten how important it is for the embassy to be well-informed, or does he remember and not care?

About the Author
Tova Herzl served twice as congressional liaison in Washington DC, was Israel's first ambassador to the newly independent Baltic states, and took early retirement after a tumultuous ambassadorship in South Africa. She is the author of the book, Madame Ambassador; Behind The Scenes With A Candid Israeli Diplomat.
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