Israel must save its Foreign Ministry, before it will be too late

After full term without a foreign minister who functions as a Foreign Minister only, without anyone struggling for the ministry’s interests and with a cut to its budget, it is time to re-cultivate the ministry that is responsible for advancing Israel’s political, strategic, economic and cultural ties around the world.

Israel – a country which too often has demonstrations against it – is forced to close seven diplomatic missions around the world, instead of opening more. Israel is the country that has held the banner of being the home of all the Jews in the world and the foreign ministry is supposed to be dedicated to nurturing ties with the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. However, the Foreign Ministry can no longer have its ambassadors fly to distant cities, in an attempt to save the price of the flights. Foreign Ministry officials, with high quality and idealistic values, are forced to function with a minimal budget that is diminishing. Therefore, it is not surprising that they are slowly leaving. In 2017, the number of applicants for the MFA cadets’ course was half the number of candidates in 2012.

We cannot continue to allow the marginalization of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. It’s time to change, before it’s too late. Now is the time to further advance the goals of the Foreign Ministry and rehabilitate it after years in which it has only gone backwards, unlike other government ministries.

In recent years, Israel has been challenged abroad with more and more protests against it, faced unwillingness of states to establish diplomatic relations with it and confronted with growing criticism among the international community. Investing in Israel’s foreign relations is necessary and crucial. However, the reality on the ground in recent years has shown otherwise. In fact, the budget of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs relative to the general budget is lower than any Western country, lower than the neighboring countries of Israel and much less than Iran’s budget.

However, some would argue that Israel’s foreign relations have never been better. They will talk about the American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and the renewal of diplomatic relations between Chad and Israel this year. Indeed, these are impressive achievements, but they present only a partial picture. While Trump recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the BDS movement is gaining momentum on campuses throughout the US. While Chad is renewing its diplomatic relations with Israel, South Africa decides to return its ambassador from Israel and lower the level of relations between the two countries.

In addition, some may say that the security aspect is more important than Israel’s foreign relations and that Israel’s military capabilities is what truly deserves investment. I do not reject this argument, but I do think that we must recognize that parallel to the military campaign in which Israel is leading, another campaign is being waged, the campaign of international public opinion, in which Israel is losing big. Within the political context, we must not underestimate the importance of alliances and we must remember that strong foreign relations and significant alliances are sometimes more effective than any physical force.

The next term of the government has the opportunity to change the face of the Foreign Ministry. An opportunity to leverage Israel’s political, strategic, economic and cultural ties with the various countries. An opportunity to address the many challenges facing it, such as the negative international public opinion. An opportunity to create a strong diplomatic infrastructure for times when a US president will not necessarily be friendly with the State of Israel. An opportunity to strengthen Israel’s standing in the world. It is time to stop the Israeli Foreign Ministry from being marginalized and allow it to do what it is good at – for the future of the State of Israel.

About the Author
May Finkelstein is Israeli, currently works as a Coordinator and a teacher of Diplomacy track in "Smadar" Junior High School in Herzliya. In the past, she coordinated the "Masa" program for American Jewish students. May is finishing her bachelor's degree in Government, Diplomacy and Strategy as part of "Argov", Leadership and Diplomacy program, for honored students at the Interdisciplinary center Herzliya. As part of her studies May directed the government school's Democracy Day conference, participated in a delegation to American college campuses with the Reservists on Duty organization, took a part in a Model UN delegation to Spain and participated in the "Mentors Program" for honor students.
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