Barukh Binah
policy fellow, writer and former ambassador
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The Nationality Law: The Ambassadorial reproach

I don't need anyone to tell me that my country is Jewish, but I do abhor a law telling my comrades-in-arms they no longer belong

We were gathering around our regular table in our regular café in Tel Aviv harbor. The usual shifting crowd of some 15 to 20 retired ambassadors and diplomats who meet once a week for a light lunch and drinks. A typical Israeli “parliament,” we discussed normal stuff such as Foreign Ministry gossip, the latest exhibits and theater shows, recent books and movies, the awful weather this summer (“it’s much worse in Europe!”), our grandchildren (by far our sujet-du-jour), foreign trips; and politics, oh yes, politics; the unending issue of disagreement in a looming elections’ year.

Still, the Tel Aviv Foreign Ministry “parliament” is a non-political group of friends. We have decided long ago not to express ourselves on political issues, as we have some center-right and center-left aficionados. We will discuss politics as good Israelis always do but will not spell it out as a group.

You see, we are a bunch of highly motivated and (if I may modestly say so) capable individuals, who have gone through the rigorous Cadets’ Course of the Foreign Ministry and have accumulated over a thousand years of combined diplomatic service for Israel. We did it in the African jungles, in South American rainforests, and in hardship assignments all over the globe. This is true especially and perhaps surprisingly in Western societies, where Israel is willfully maligned and where we fight back without sufficient budgets and sometimes without a clear-minded skippers’ hand at the helm. Our families paid the price of instability, knowing that it is all for a good cause, the State of Israel.

Partly, this is why most of us did not need the new Nationality Law. We are patriots who know perfectly well what we were fighting for and, given our declared apolitical nature, we did not automatically feel an urge to express ourselves against this unnecessary law. Why therefore did we issue such a strongly worded open letter blasting it?

Well, as I mentioned early on, we were at our regular café when someone said that this law is piercing us right through our Israeli hearts. At the Foreign Ministry we worked shoulder to shoulder with Druze, Muslim and Christian Israelis who proudly represented our common country. We could not stand idly by when our life-long friends were singled out. Personally, as a seventh-generation Israeli-born, I do not need anyone to tell me that my country is Jewish, but I do abhor a law telling my comrades-in-arms that they no longer belong in the State of Israel, as they always thought they did.

By the way, we did not activate any official mailing list; the word spread and many former senior diplomats asked to join our letter; they were more than welcome’ of course. However, a few friends called to say that they were not going to join such a letter.

Finally, this Ambassadors’ Letter flooded me with emails and phone calls. Some were supportive while other were not. I bring it up here because some kindly souls demanded to know why only in retirement we find the courage to be critical. So, let me clarify: I always expressed my opinions, insights and analyses in official discussions. However, once they decided on a policy I carried it out to the best of my ability. You see, I was a civil servant and, once my opinions were heard, it became my obligation to follow that policy, as any army officer would have done. This is our code of conduct. However, now that I am no longer in service, it is still my duty to caution and warn against potential damages. This law is harmful and it grieves me to see my lifelong friends agonize. Therefore, as I always spoke up within the government, I will now speak up to the public and so, I believe, will my mates.

About the Author
Ambassador (ret.) Barukh Binah is a policy fellow at MITVIM, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. He is also a member of the Foreign Policy Forum and of Commanders for Israel's Security. He has served in a variety of diplomatic positions vis-à-vis the United States, including Spokesman in New York, Consul General in Chicago, Deputy Head of Mission in Washington DC and Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem,  heading the North American Division. He also served as Israel's ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark. in 2017 he published a poetry book, "it only seems like healing", and recently published his book, "Sonia McConnel and other Stories"
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