Ministry of Foreign Affairs521.
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / REUTERS)
Considering the world’s hateful obsession with Israel’s purported misdeeds, one would think that the Jewish state devotes a disproportionate percentage of its budget to setting the record straight.
Yet, not only are our leaders not planning on beefing up public diplomacy efforts throughout the world, they are actually planning on further reducing Israel’s presence on the international stage in an effort to save money.
The original proposal put forward by the Finance Ministry was to cut a total of 22 of 103 Israeli missions abroad over three years at a savings of NIS 176m. and to fire 140 of the 686 Foreign Ministry employees based in Jerusalem for an additional NIS 40m. in savings.
This proposal was later scaled back to a plan to close seven diplomatic representations and to freeze layoffs altogether.
But we wonder what the powers-that-be could possibly be thinking when they behave so disparagingly toward our foreign corps. By allowing the Finance Ministry proposal to be widely publicized, the government message to them is very clear and very disheartening.
It must be frustrating for the idealistic and motivated Foreign Ministry diplomats based in Israel and abroad who chose the diplomatic calling out of a desire to serve and to defend Israel against the propaganda spewed by a host of countries, non-state actors, terrorist groups, Islamists, and BDS activists. These are people who received training in the art of diplomacy and are therefore the best qualified to take up Israel’s case abroad.
According to a report published back in February 2016, Israel has a significantly lower profile internationally than other countries of comparable size.
Data presented by Hanan Goder-Goldberger, the Foreign Ministry workers’ union chairman, found that countries that suffer none of the international condemnation faced by Israel invest more than we do in their foreign corps.
The Czech Republic, which is of comparable size and has a per capita GDP similar to Israel’s, had in 2006 123 missions abroad, 20 more than Israel. Greece and Norway also have more representatives.
Israel’s detractors are also better represented abroad.
Iran had 142 missions, Turkey had 233 delegations, and even the Palestinian Authority – which subsists primarily from handouts – had about the same international presence in 2016 as Israel does, with 101 missions.
In all, the 22 members of the Arab League had 1,799 missions and delegations, overshadowing Israel on the international stage.
How to explain the discrepancy between Israel’s public diplomacy needs and the sad reality? Part of the problem is that Israel lacks a full-time foreign minister. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also holds the foreign ministry portfolio. A politician with drive and aspirations to become prime minister and who sees the Foreign Ministry as a stepping stone to this goal would never allow his ministry to be treated so shabbily. Netanyahu, in contrast, has other concerns.
A country like Israel that has such daunting foreign policy challenges deserves a full-time foreign minister.
Israel has always faced formidable enemies on the international scene. And today is no different, whether it be Iran’s inimical influence via its proxies in the North and in the South, or the BDS campaign.
Today more than ever there is logic in investing in getting our message out to world because there is more of a chance that this message will be heard.
It has dawned on a number of countries in the region, albeit belatedly, that Iran, not Israel is the real threat to stability. And countries like India, where Netanyahu is visiting this week, are increasingly realizing that they have much more to gain from the products of Israel’s free society than can be gained from all the Arab countries combined.
That’s why Israel should be investing more, not less, in developing its public diplomacy efforts abroad.
Instead of closing down missions and firing staff, we should be opening new consulates and showing appreciation to our foreign corps. We have a war to win.