Israel’s foreign ministry has the world’s best “hasbarists,” although many are kept behind classified information in briefing rooms where cell phones aren’t allowed. Those serving in Israel spend much of their time, when not researching or analyzing, addressing dozens of foreign delegations.
Over the past months The Jerusalem Post and others have published articles criticizing the foreign ministry and Israel in general for weak diplomacy. Well-intentioned supporters of Israel, for the most part with little understanding of what diplomacy is all about, present a partial, often factually incorrect, snapshot of Israel’s diplomatic performance.
To be sure, we can always do more. Certainly with a better allocation of resources, Israel’s diplomats will be better able and equipped to achieve more. On average other Western nations invest six times as much as Israel in their foreign ministries. No-one would claim Israel has fewer challenges on the international stage.
Israel is a country in conflict which has seen various phases including conventional wars and brutal terror attacks. These were successfully addressed by our colleagues in the military and various defense agencies. To be fair, Israel’s diplomats were always at the heart of things, active and achieving much as well.
But the Arab-Israeli conflict is moving on, manifesting in new arenas not least because of the successes of the defense establishment.
The conflict has moved onto the international theater. An assault on the very right of the Jewish People to national self-determination is underway.
It starts on university campuses driven by the anti-Israel crowd cynically, albeit smartly, dressing the conflict as a humanitarian issue with a view to capturing the hearts of the academia and human rights activists and a desire to spread the word through the media, generally enthralled by the little Jewish state’s actions and achievements anyway.
With attempts to boycott Israel and calls for divestment the hope is to inject the conflict into the corporate boardroom. The ultimate thrill is to insert the conflict into the courts and indict Israelis with a view to presenting the individual Israeli as Israel as a whole, facilitating the isolation of Israel.
Virtually every aspect of this manifestation of the Arab-Israeli conflict is precisely where Israel’s diplomats are the only people with the experience and expertise needed.
Diplomacy put Iran center stage, bringing it to the negotiations table (we’ll still see how that plays out). Diplomacy builds the international framework addressing cyber threats. Diplomacy weathered the storm around illegal migrants and crafts the path forward to a workable resolution.
Diplomats are in the trenches on campus, at church synods, briefing editorial boards. Diplomats organize and host the political, economic, religious, academia, media and other delegations to Israel.
Diplomacy also spends much time beyond the conflict, negotiating economic and other agreements between Israel and the nations of the world.
Walter Lippman, famous for being among the first to introduce the concept of “Cold War,” defined national security in terms of war saying, “a nation has security when it does not have to sacrifice its legitimate interests to avoid war.”
In other words, to avoid the need to activate our defense establishment Israel needs to invest heavily in diplomacy, and the resilience of Israel’s foreign relations is what will determine Israel’s ability to defend itself. Impairing Israel’s diplomacy weakens Israel’s national security.
It would be prudent of those who care so deeply about Israel to aim their frustration in the appropriate direction – underinvestment in diplomacy by those in the finance ministry who, by their own lack of understanding of the critical importance of diplomacy, undermine Israel’s national security.
In the meantime, friendly foreign diplomats still turn to Israel’s foreign ministry to learn from Israel’s successes in public diplomacy.
Foreign delegations of decision makers and opinion formers continue to flock to Israel’s foreign ministry for briefings and dialogue for the simple reason that they know Israel’s diplomats are first class.
The author is a diplomat.