Despite all the challenges Israel is facing in light of the coronavirus crisis, there are opportunities to be had in the diplomatic field, according to Yaniv Cohen, CEO of the Abba Eban Institute for Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
“We are in a situation that diplomacy and international relations are encountering for the first time in hundreds of years: There are no conferences or personal meetings,” he said Thursday. “This is a challenge for us. But my argument is that this is a big challenge, but it’s an opportunity.”
Cohen identified three ways in which the Foreign Ministry could improve Israel’s international standing.
First is in coordinating research efforts among countries.
“Israel does serious work in the world of research dealing with these matters, such as in the Institute for Biological Research in Ness Ziona and the Weizmann Institute, where people are working tirelessly on vaccines and medicines,” he said. “The job of the Foreign Service is to connect the researchers with other countries doing similar things.”
Cohen cited the Mossad operation in which it brought 100,000 coronavirus tests to Israel, which lacked a component Magen David Adom was missing.
“It shows how complex this issue is,” he said. “It’s a classic problem in coordination that the [foreign-relations] professionals need to take care of.”
The second area in which there are diplomatic opportunities is Israel’s vast experience in disaster relief in general and its relatively successful response to this specific pandemic, Cohen said.
“Israel is among the leading countries in the world in containing [COVID-19] and defeating it,” he said. “The world should know what Israel is doing. We should be on the front lines of telling this story.” Israel is telling its story, “but not in an optimal way.”
“We need to be in a situation in which 100% of the developments happening in Israel at any moment goes out to the world,” he said. “This information needs to be released by the Foreign Ministry to show the world what Israel is doing. They’re doing it, but not strategically. This is a big opportunity, and we can take advantage of it in a more effective way.”
Cohen’s third suggestion is that Israel take advantage of its position as a world leader in digital diplomacy.
“This is the time to move everything online,” he said. “The Digital Department [of the Foreign Ministry] has to be the core of the work. The day must start and end online for them, because the whole world is online now. Israel can and must be a leader there.”
Some suggestions Cohen gave for how Israel can amplify its voice is to promote the story of how it sent a plane to rescue tourists stranded in Peru, or to create a Passover platform to help Jews around the world who will not be celebrating with their families.
“We are all in shock,” he said. “The situation is very upsetting. But when we have great opportunities, we need to take advantage of them. Is the Foreign Service responding or leading in dealing with this international crisis? The Foreign Service should be leading… at the moment, that’s not the situation.”
Cohen refuted the assertion that such actions would be cynical, saying everyone, including private companies and government ministries, was “trying to be relevant in light of the situation and trying to understand their place.”
Still, he expressed appreciation for the Foreign Ministry’s hard work in these difficult times.
“This is constructive criticism,” Cohen said. “The Foreign Ministry is working very hard, and they need to do it in a more strategic way to take advantage of the situation.”