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(photo credit: AP [file])
Although fireworks were expected during Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's first appearance in his current role before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the almost full roster of committee members maintained decorum on Tuesday as he pushed an agenda to re-market Israel.
Lieberman told the MKs that world public opinion was Israel's No. 1 foreign policy problem during the meeting, which was one of a few rare instances in which the usually secretive panel held an open-door and televised session.
Lieberman discussed his ministry's budget, and said that limited resources were hampering Israel's efforts in the international arena.
"World public opinion about us doesn't reflect the reality and we cannot continue to have foreign policy success without dramatically improving the approach concerning how we are perceived in the eyes of the world by Western countries, the free world, where we have a fundamental problem of not being perceived well," the foreign minister said.
Ido Aharoni, head of the Foreign Ministry's Branding Israel Project, expressed similar sentiments.
"We carried out a series of studies in Europe and the US and tried to understand how Israel was branded in the eyes of the world," he said. "We discovered that the Arabs, our competitors, have succeeded in doing to us what Borat did to Kazakhstan, in creating an identity for us which has a very tenuous link to reality."
But it was not just in the field of marketing, said Lieberman, that Israel's status overseas was suffering from a budget crunch. The Israel Beiteinu chairman said that he was concerned by the phenomenon of legal proceedings launched overseas against Israeli political and security officials, and bemoaned the fact that the entire Justice Ministry office tasked with fighting such court challenges only had a budget for two attorneys.
"It is clear that this is insufficient to manage an international struggle," said Lieberman, who added that the budgetary constraints were particularly "improbable" since the need to protect officials was "a national consensus."
"We cannot allow there to become a situation in which officials become Prisoners of Zion within the State of Israel," said the Soviet-born statesman, using the term for Zionist Jews who were imprisoned in the Soviet Union.
Lieberman also tried to ease tensions with the United States, saying that Israel "praises the US regional approach and its attempts not only to reach a deal between Israelis and Palestinians, but for a regional approach in which all constructive parties understand that there is a need for cooperation."
"We are in a period of very busy diplomatic work," he continued. "And, of course, the prime minister's speech [at Bar-Ilan University on Sunday], which to a certain degree will sharply formulate the Netanyahu-government's outlook, is arousing great interest."
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