Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
On the eve of his upcoming visit to the United States, a cabinet minister declares his opposition to Israel’s declared goal of a settlement based on two states for two peoples. In the midst of an ongoing US visit, a deputy minister is disinvited by a left-wing Jewish student group at a prestigious university due to her alleged racism.
These are just the latest examples of the state of affairs in the government, which for the third year lacks a foreign minister. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to spread his multiple talents thinly among sometimes competing responsibilities while being forced to spend valuable time occupied by a slew of corruption probes Israel’s relations with African nations, with India and China, and overall with the US are remarkably productive due to Netanyahu’s impressive juggling abilities, and his careful maneuvering with Russia’s Vladimir Putin has kept Israel inoculated against the Syrian conflict. It is, however, undeniable that the professional manager of Israel’s foreign relations, the Foreign Ministry, continues to be undermined to the county’s detriment by the prime minister’s reluctance to yield some of his powers.
In April 2016, the High Court of Justice endorsed the government’s policy of having a prime minister who holds his own position while theoretically managing several others.
In an unfortunately unclear ruling, the justices supported then Prime-Foreign-Economy-Communications-Regional Cooperation Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right to multitask, but suggested this would be proper for only eight more months. That was 18 months ago.
Prime ministers have held additional ministries since the state’s first premier, David Ben-Gurion, also held the Defense portfolio during the turmoil of our early independence.
Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak also had multiple ministries, but Netanyahu beats them all. Nobody can effectively run several ministries without having conflicts of interest, not to mention lacking sufficient time to devote to their proper functioning.
It is undeniable that Netanyahu has remarkably improved ties between Israel and moderate Sunni states, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, as the Iranian threat looms.
Other major foreign policy achievements include the recalibrating of relations with the US following Donald Trump’s victory and dealing with Russia’s increasingly active role in the Middle East. But this state of affairs is untenable in the face of the day-to-day challenges that the Foreign Ministry exists to deal with.
Netanyahu has ignored this dire need to the country’s detriment. Perhaps the worst casualty of his disdain for traditional diplomacy was the departure of Israel’s most senior effective diplomat, Dore Gold, who served as director- general of the ministry until he stepped down out of evident frustration.
Though Gold cited personal reasons, he unquestionably suffered from the reduced role Netanyahu has given the ministry. Many others have followed suit.
The premier’s apparent disdain has now been revealed as a managerial policy that, instead of relying on professional diplomats, is based upon his cronies and confidants.
The fact that our prime minister has been using private advisers such as Yitzhak Molcho and David Shimron, both of whom are under criminal investigation for alleged corruption, should result in a public outcry for their replacement by qualified Foreign Ministry professionals, not to mention Netanyahu’s immediate relinquishing of his self-appointed role as the savior of Israeli foreign affairs.
In practical terms, it is worth noting that, under the present chaotic system, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has also served as minister of strategic affairs and public diplomacy, whose NIS 120 million budget to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is greater than all the money available to the Foreign Ministry for programming. This undermining of the Foreign Ministry has stripped the country of some of its best resources in the worldwide battle for public opinion.
In most Western countries the position of chief diplomat is considered one of the most important political appointments.
Israel must rise to meet major challenges both in the region and in its relations with the US and Russia. This is not a part-time job.
Israel needs a full-time chief diplomat to serve alongside a full-time prime minister.