Israel's diplomacy chaos: Multiple offices for public diplomacy - explainer

The government offices or departments that deal with public diplomacy are about to grow in this round of Netanyahu as prime minister.

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convenes a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, January 8, 2023 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/Pool)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convenes a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, January 8, 2023
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/Pool)

The number of ministers in the current right-wing government is so big, that there will be many potential clashes between the new minister and some of the ministries. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to appoint Likud MK Galit Distal Atbaryan to the role of public diplomacy minister on Monday afternoon.

So will Distal Atbaryan run Israel’s public diplomacy? Probably not.

The government offices or departments that deal with public diplomacy are about to grow in this round of Netanyahu as prime minister.

The many Israeli government offices and departments dealing with public diplomacy

First of all, the issue of combating the delegitimization of Israel globally, as well as combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and antisemitism is supposed to be given to newly appointed Diaspora Affairs and Social Equality Minister Amichai Chikli. There are about 20 employees of the Foreign Ministry who are expected to transfer to the Diaspora Affairs Ministry and deal with these issues. These 20 employees are pretty new to the Foreign Ministry since they were transferred from the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which has since been dismantled by the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid government. These employees are now working for the public diplomacy department at the Foreign Ministry.

 MK AMICHAI CHIKLI attends the House Committee meeting in the Knesset last week at which he was declared a defector. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) MK AMICHAI CHIKLI attends the House Committee meeting in the Knesset last week at which he was declared a defector. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

As reported by The Jerusalem Post on Monday, the strategic affairs minister is now Ron Dermer, who served up until recently as Israel’s ambassador to the US. Dermer isn’t going to be dealing with the BDS movement or with antisemitism, therefore this may be an existing ministry, but the content has all been taken away from it. Dermer will deal with more strategic foreign affairs issues, as a Netanyahu confidant.

The employees at the Foreign Ministry who are expected to move to the Diaspora Affairs Ministry have no idea when or how this is going to take place. There was also a bit of misunderstanding about Chikli’s new focus for the ministry since the Foreign Ministry already has a department that deals with Diaspora issues and, of course, antisemitism.

The Foreign Ministry for example has a bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions, headed by Shuli Davidovich and a department for Combating Antisemitism and Holocaust Remembrance, headed by Ruth Dar, who is also the cohead of the Israeli delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

So what exactly is left for Distal Atbaryan to do in terms of public diplomacy?

There are other possible entities that are currently part of the Prime Minister’s Office such as the Public Diplomacy Directory at the Prime Minister’s Office.

This directory was reestablished by Elad Tene during Bennett’s tenure after more than six years it hadn’t existed. The idea is to consolidate all of the information and sensitive materials regarding many issues internationally and internally such as the COVID-19 pandemic and major diplomacy issues such as International Court of Justice trials against Israel and other international topics.

This directory also is in charge of the prime minister’s media and the Government Press Office. The directory has been creating talking points for all government ministries and officials on issues of defense and crisis. During a war, the head of the directory is in charge of the media policy, such as the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, the Foreign Ministry and others.

If this part of the Prime Minister’s Office comes about, then it can manage difficult and sensitive issues from a broad perspective. If this becomes its own ministry, it won’t be able to be effective.

According to a government official, Dermer’s ministry will be “run like a think tank,” and won’t deal at all with the BDS. According to the source, the ministry will have three jurisdictions: The Abraham Accords and the countries that it involves, issues that have to do with Iran and relations with the US.

So what will Distal Atbaryan do with the funds she receives for her new ministry? Sources in the government said that there are a variety of directions they may choose to deal with such as conferences around the world, lectures on campuses abroad, outreach towards Muslims regarding Israel, dialogue with Diaspora Jews, hasbara in the form of public diplomacy toward Europeans and more.

On Monday, it was announced that Chikli will make his first public address in the US at the opening of the Israeli American Council (IAC) National Summit on January 19 in Austin, Texas. IAC’s 8th National Summit, the largest pro-Israel American Jewish conference of the year, will be held for the first time in Austin for three days.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.