Give a conference the name “Innovative Diplomacy,” and it can go in a few different directions.
It could deal with using innovations, Israel’s strong suit, to promote diplomacy, or it could deal with innovative ways to carry out diplomacy, defined simply as advancing your country’s interests abroad.
The “Innovative Diplomacy” conference put on in Herzliya on Monday by IDC’s Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy dealt with both issues – how to use innovations in diplomacy, as well as how to be innovative in the practice of diplomacy.
An example of the former was a presentation given by Béatrice Hasler Lev-Tov, a lecturer at IDC’s Sammy Ofer School of Communications, on using virtual reality in diplomacy to literally allow one to feel what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes, for instance, a man in a woman’s body, or a white man in a black man’s skin.
Virtual reality, she said, has been characterized as the ultimate “empathy machine.” As such, it could be used in diplomacy to allow diplomats to understand and empathize with the perspective of their interlocutors.
Virtual reality, she said, “can go beyond providing the perspective of the other side, but can simulate the reality of another person.”
Former ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor, the chairman of the Abba Eban Institute, said virtual reality could be used – for example – to show Hezbollah’s attack tunnels and connect people to Israel’s message in a completely different way.
Those are all examples of how to use innovations in the service of diplomacy. Examples of innovative ways to carry out diplomacy, on the other hand, were given by Australia’s Ambassador to Israel Chris Cannan, who said his country was experimenting with “pop-up embassies.”
Given that Australia, like most other countries around the globe, have budgetary constraints limiting its ability to set up brick-and-mortar embassies everywhere it would like, this year it rented commercial space in Estonia from April to May and set up a temporary, “pop-up” embassy.
The idea, he said, was to “turbo-charge” the bilateral engagement between the two countries on issues such as cybersecurity and commercial ties, while also using the temporary embassy for more traditional events, such as marking ANZAC Day on April 25 that commemorates Australians and New Zealanders who fell in conflicts overseas.
Another example of innovation in diplomacy that he gave was a program called the Tel Aviv Landing Pad, which his embassy has been instrumental in setting up. Under this program, select Australian start-ups are brought to Israel for a period between two weeks and three months, where they come into contact with Israel’s startup ecosystem, meet key figures in the hi-tech world, and go back to Australia with ideas for a better start-ups and business models that can then “contribute to our economy and create jobs.”
DIPLOMACY, CANNAN said, is finding ways to advance a country’s national interests, “and the way this is done will continue to evolve.”
Prosor said that diplomacy is being redefined, but that Israel “does not really use the added value we have in new technology and innovation in the diplomatic field.”
“The idea is not just to reshape the foreign service,” he continued, “but rather to change the state of mind. It is not enough to change structures, but the state of mind, about how an organization basically thinks. Not just to use new tools for old diplomacy, but innovative thinking. “
Andy David, the Foreign Ministry’s director of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology, disputed the idea that the Foreign Ministry was a “dinosaur” when it comes to innovation and that it has not moved with the times. He said Israel’s is the only foreign ministry in the world that has its own software developers who are developing algorithms to monitor hate speech on social media, so that it can then be combated.
He also discussed what he termed an initiative called “geometric diplomacy,” whereby Israel creates sub-alliances – such as with Greece and Cyprus, and with the Visegrad countries of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland – and uses its strength in innovation to cement those relationships.
“We created partnerships with those countries – diplomatic partnerships – where the main issue is Israel sharing and helping to promote startups and innovation ecosystems in those countries,” he said.
Israel turns to those countries for help inside the EU, but – as David said – it is now engaged with those countries “around our assets.”
Another participant in the conference was Sylvan Adams, an Israeli-Canadian philanthropist who put up NIS 80 million last year to bring the Giro D’italia bicycle race to Israel. This too was a form of innovative diplomacy, in that a billion people around the world tuned in to the race, and through the footage being broadcast saw and experienced Israel in a way they had never seen before.
“In terms of reaching ordinary people, there is nothing like sports,” he said. “We went into people’s living rooms, showed the true country, and they saw images of Israel that clashed with the images they had in their minds.”
Adams said he would like to start a government-supported fund, largely financed by private interests, “that would bring a constant flow of big events” to Israel. The idea, he said, is to go “over the heads of journalists” and show the “true Israel.”