(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named long-time foreign policy confidant Dore Gold as Foreign Ministry director-general on Sunday, a signal that Netanyahu – who has kept the ministry in his own hands – does not believe he will be widening the government in the near future.
It has been widely believed that he did not name a foreign minister earlier this month because he planned to keep the portfolio open for either Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman or the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog, should one or the other decide to join the coalition. But a government official said Gold’s appointment showed the prime minister did not see either one entering the government soon, and as such wanted a person he trusted completely to be in the ministry.
Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations and currently head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, will be working under Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who was told about the appointment just prior to it being made public. He replaces Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, a veteran ministry employee who started out in its administrative track and then moved to the diplomatic side.
Netanyahu called in Ben-Sheetrit on Monday morning, thanked him for his work and said he hoped he would remain in the diplomatic service.
A former ambassador to Japan, Ben-Sheetrit was appointed by former foreign minister Liberman in November 2013. He was looked at askance by some diplomats because he rose through the ranks through various administrative positions.
He issued a statement saying he was proud of his 50-year career at the ministry, starting there at age 16 and rising from errand boy to become one of its top diplomats.
Liberman commented on the appointment, saying that while it was Netanyahu’s prerogative to appoint his own man to this post, appointments at the ministry are not ways to give out favors or settle scores. He also said that “it needs to be clear that new appointments or changes are not a replacement for clear policy.”
In that regard, one government source said, Gold was the perfect candidate because he had a direct line to Netanyahu, and his interlocutors would know that when he speaks, he is speaking for Netanyahu and with authority.
“This will give him power and make him relevant,” the official said, noting that Ben-Sheetrit never enjoyed that status.
The American-born Gold is considered one of Netanyahu’s top foreign policy advisers. He served as one of his foreign policy advisers starting in 1996, during the prime minister’s first term in office, being appointed the following year as ambassador to the UN, where he served until 1999. In 2014, he became an “outside” consultant in the Prime Minister’s Office.
In recent years, Gold has accompanied Netanyahu on many of his trips to Washington and the UN, and over the years has been one of Israel’s foremost unofficial spokesmen, speaking in the media and at conferences around the world on Israeli policy. He is often sought out by journalists and diplomats because of his knowledge of the issues, and because he is considered to be close to Netanyahu, thus reflecting his thinking.
He has also been very active in lobbying policy-makers on behalf of “defensible borders” for Israel.
Hotovely spoke with Gold after the appointment and issued a statement, saying that with his rich experience in the international arena, the former UN ambassador could contribute to furthering Israel’s position in the world.
The last person brought in from the outside to fill a top post in the Foreign Ministry was Aaron Abramovich, appointed by Tzipi Livni in 2006 when she was foreign minister. Other directors-general who came from the outside the diplomatic service have included Shlomo Avineri, David Kimche and Reuven Merhav.