The Knesset building.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A strong Foreign Ministry is necessary for national security, opposition MKs said at an emergency conference Monday to discuss a planned budget cut requiring seven missions abroad to be closed.
Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, chairman of the Knesset Caucus for Strengthening the Foreign Service, said: “This is a last-minute call for the Knesset, government and the public to wake up and stop the intentional weakening of the Foreign Ministry.”
Shai called planned cuts in the 2019 budget “malicious” and unjustified.
“The bottom line is there is no replacement for the Foreign Ministry. It is necessary and essential. The diplomats are responsible for developing and cultivating our economic, diplomatic and cultural relations,” Shai said.
“Maybe the Finance Ministry thinks that in the world of immediacy, with social media, the foreign service can turn viral, but we have news for them – there is no replacement for diplomacy and there will not be one,” he added.
Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, which cosponsored the event, said the Foreign Ministry was not doing enough to build ties between countries and create channels for dialogue.
“The Foreign Ministry shouldn’t be focused on public diplomacy and trying to stop international diplomatic initiatives and criticism of Israel and trying to gather up votes in the UN,” Goren said.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) asked: “What is the meaning of closing seven missions?” He pointed out that this meant seven countries in the UN.
“Foreign Ministry workers can be found around the world in the most difficult places,” Herzog continued. “They are at the forefront of our diplomatic challenges and face physical and mental threats. There is no reason to disrespect them and humiliate them, and it certainly is wrong to close missions in important and sensitive countries.”
MK Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid proposed a bill to define the Foreign Ministry’s role as the central government body that formulates and designs foreign policy and public diplomacy, and regulates how other ministries work with it. The bill is set to go to a preliminary vote on Wednesday.
Shelah said at the caucus meeting that the government was intentionally trying to weaken the Foreign Ministry.
“There is no foreign minister,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds the portfolio and Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) is deputy foreign minister. Neither attended the meeting – Netanyahu is in India and Hotovely’s office said she was busy.
“Areas that are clearly under the authority of the Foreign Ministry were taken from it and divided between six different ministries,” such as the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which is focused on fighting delegitimization. And now there are budget cuts, with permission and the blessing of the prime minister,” Shelah said.
“A strong Foreign Ministry is part of national security. When people in the most senior ministries are doing their first job, it hurts Israel’s most important interests,” he stated. “If there was a crisis like this in the IDF today, it would be considered a national crisis.”