What attacks on Israel’s embassies really mean

Diplomats and employees in the Israeli Foreign Service are often mocked for working in jobs that consist of frequenting cocktail parties and soirées.

August 3, 2019 20:11
4 minute read.
A Hebrew and English sign is seen at the entrance to the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel

A Hebrew and English sign is seen at the entrance to the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 16, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

The Israeli Embassy in Helsinki, Finland, recently suffered its 15th antisemitic attack in 18 months. Pictures of swastikas and Adolf Hitler were hung on the embassy wall, and its windows were smashed. According to Israeli Foreign Ministry sources, local Helsinki authorities are not taking adequate measures to quell these worrying attacks, perpetrated primarily by far-right extremists.

Diplomats and employees in the Israeli Foreign Service are often mocked for working in jobs that consist of frequenting cocktail parties and soirées with only the fanciest of dignitaries and government officials. This is far from the truth. Although it may not always be obvious, these brave men and women put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of helping the State of Israel. Unfortunately, Israeli embassies and consulates have regularly been targets of attacks from both far-right and Islamic terrorists.

The 1972 embassy hostage crisis in Thailand, the 1992 embassy bombing in Buenos Aires (two years before the AMIA terrorist attack in the same city), the 1994 car bomb attack on the UK embassy, and the 1999 attack on the Israeli Consulate in Berlin are just a few that come to mind. It is not just the embassies and consulates that are being targeted, but the ambassadors themselves. In fact, the attempted assassination in 1982 of Shlomo Argov, then Israel’s ambassador to the UK, was one of the key factors leading to the outbreak of the First Lebanon War. The attack left Argov paralyzed for the remainder of his life, and he tragically died in 2003 from wounds he received during the attack.

Israeli missions worldwide are heavily protected by sophisticated security technology, highly skilled guards, and staff are trained to operate efficiently in the event of an assault on their territory. However, it takes two to tango. Israeli representatives around the world can do everything in their power to increase security, but that does not matter if authorities in their host countries do not properly address the threat of antisemitism in their midst.

This threat becomes even more frightening when observing the global upswing in antisemitism, notably in Europe. It is incumbent on local authorities to enforce their domestic laws and apprehend the criminals who are harming Israel’s missions. These states are also obligated under international law by the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to “protect the consular premises against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the consular post or impairment of its dignity.”

THE ISRAELI government would do well to remind the 180 states that are party to this treaty of their responsibilities, starting with Finland. If states hosting Israeli missions do not abide by the articles of this treaty, Israel should invoke the relevant mechanisms under international law to ensure they do.

Likewise, we must also understand the effect that attacks on Israeli missions have on local Jewish communities. Obviously, many Jews worldwide identify closely with Israel and Zionism, seeing it as a physical manifestation of their Jewish identity. It must be terrifying for these communities to witness attacks on their religious and national identities. These perils could potentially lead to internal fractures within those communities.

The international community must recognize that these attacks are not merely vile and cowardly attacks on innocent Israelis, but on the Jewish people as well. And make no mistake, these attacks are not anti-Israel (if such a concept even exists), they are full-blown antisemitic. Sketches of swastikas, antisemitic slurs and Hitler are not critiques of Israeli policy, they are expressions of Jew-hatred.

Being separated by state borders does not sever the universal bond that Jews everywhere share with one another. An attack on one is an attack on all. We in Israel must ensure that Jews in the Diaspora feel their voices of concern are being heard, even in the smallest and most remote communities. More importantly, we cannot allow for an environment in which Jews in the Diaspora are afraid to express their Zionist ideals.

Helsinki is home to roughly 1,800 Jews. The community dates back to the early 19th century and has long been a steadfast ally of Israel. Finnish volunteers in the Israeli War of Independence represented the highest per-capita participation of any Diaspora Jewish community. We cannot afford to lose this community to the fear and hate of our enemies. The Israeli government ought to use the full force of its influence to elicit a more effective, proactive response to these antisemitic attacks from Helsinki’s law enforcement, and we in Israel should make sure that the Jews of Helsinki know they have not been forgotten.

The writer is a former intern at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN in New York. He is pursuing his bachelor’s degree at IDC Herzliya and is a CAMERA fellow for the upcoming academic year.

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