(photo credit: ULPANEI REHOVOT)
A storm over Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s comments about a problem with the DNA of the Foreign Ministry passed on Sunday after he clarified his remarks at a meeting with a leader of the ministry’s workers’ committee.
“We had a good meeting,” said the ministry’s Hanan Godar. “This issue is now behind us.”
The day before, the worker’s committee said it would no longer cooperate with Bennett until he apologized for taking a broad swipe against Foreign Ministry workers on Tel Aviv Radio on Friday, in remarks in which he accused former director-general, Alon Liel, of campaigning for international pressure against Israel.
“While Israel is stepping up preparations against BDS [the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement], it turns out that a big part of the BDS efforts are born here,” Bennett had said on the broadcast.
“It bothers me a great deal that the person [Liel] who was responsible for furthering Israel’s standing in the world, is doing everything he can – now that he is not in that position – to harm Israel’s standing in order to advance his agenda.”
Calling the issue an “earthquake,” Bennett said further he was “starting to think that maybe there is a problem in the DNA of the Foreign Ministry.”
If people like Liel were in the Foreign Ministry for “enough time, there is a deep problem,” Bennett continued. “People ask where is hasbara [public diplomacy]? What hasbara, when the No. 1 pyromaniac is standing at the head of the system?” Bennett asked further whether anyone knew whether Liel “did not do these things during his tenure.”
A veteran diplomat and former ambassador to South Africa, Liel served as director general for six months during Ehud Barak’s premiership in 2000-2001. He currently lectures on international relations at Tel Aviv University and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
Following Bennett’s comments, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and the ministry’s director-general Dore Gold issued statements attesting to the professional nature of the country’s diplomats.
“One cannot draw conclusions about the Foreign Ministry employees from Liel’s grave statements,” Netanyahu said, adding that ministry staff “serve the country faithfully and carry out the government’s policies.”
Bennett issued a statement that Godar had asked to meet him, and that he was glad to hear Godar say Liel’s comments were “poisonous” for Israel.
Bennett said his own comments were aimed only at a number of former Foreign Ministry officials he thought were “harming” Israel, and not a general statement about all diplomats.
Yediot Aharonot on Wednesday quoted Liel as encouraging Breaking the Silence activists at a meeting last month to continue criticizing Israeli policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank while abroad, saying that only the type of international pressure once brought to bear on South Africa would get Israel to “end the occupation.”
According to a secret recording of the meeting, Liel described a scenario whereby Israel could eventually get kicked out of the UN, as South Africa once was.
“Every article of yours, every meeting with politicians can reach the public, and reach some head of state who will give instructions as to whether to vote for or against,” Liel said, adding how he did not see any other way to change Israeli policy, since “the political system is lost.”
Liel has also lobbied the Brazilian government against accepting former settlement leader Dani Dayan as Israel’s next envoy to Brasilia, saying this would be seen as legitimizing the settlement enterprise.
In a related development, MK Essawi Frej (Meretz) submitted a bill Sunday that would prohibit anyone who lives in the West Bank from being an ambassador, consul, or head of Israeli representation in a foreign country.
Frej said the measure is meant to “prevent Netanyahu from using the Israeli foreign service to export his effort to legitimize settlers, settlements and the occupation.”Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.