Summer fun for the kids: Superland, the beach...the Foreign Ministry?

The ministry opened its doors for kids and their parents.

A student is interviewed at the Foreign Ministry's open day for kids, August 2017 (photo credit: HERB KEINON)
A student is interviewed at the Foreign Ministry's open day for kids, August 2017
(photo credit: HERB KEINON)
If bored kids still on summer vacation like Superland, they’ll love the Foreign Ministry.
That, at least, seems part of the rationale why the Foreign Ministry – for the first time ever – opened its doors on Sunday not to diplomats from Iceland and the Ivory Coast, but to fifth graders from Ramat Gan and ninth graders from Holon. And, of course, to their parents.
What fun-loving kid, for instance, wouldn’t want to walk on a red carpet or see the Foreign Ministry’s super cool situation room from where Israel coordinated efforts to extract its diplomats from a surging, angry mob at the Cairo embassy in 2011? “Welcome to the Foreign Ministry,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said to one young visitor whom she greeted on the red carpet on Sunday, with the black Foreign Ministry limousines parked in the background a perfect prop for a picture. “Do you want to be an ambassador someday?”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and students at the Foreign Ministry's open day, August 2017 (credit: Herb Keinon)
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and students at the Foreign Ministry's open day, August 2017 (credit: Herb Keinon)
The idea behind the project, Hotovely told journalists on the pilot program’s first day, is to introduce the public to the ministry, and cultivate the idea that it does much more than just coordinate the rescue of Israeli hikers stranded in Nepal. One of the brief videos the guests watch stresses that, contrary to popular opinion, the country’s diplomats do more than sit around all day sipping gin and tonics at cocktail parties.
Hotovely said that when she came to the ministry two years ago, she was struck by the gap between what the ministry does and the public’s impression of its work.
“The impression of the average Israeli is that the ministry wages an endless defensive battle around the world against Palestinian initiatives,” she said.
The truth, she said, is that its activities range from opening up new diplomatic vistas for Israel in countries in Asia and Africa, to encouraging massive investment in Israel, to providing aid to friends in crisis.
“Let’s put the facts on the table,” she said. “The Palestinians have never been in a more difficult diplomatic position.
The countries of the world are not focused on the Palestinians, but on more fateful issues, starting with North Korea and Iran, through the situation in Syria, Syrian immigrants and Islamic State and terrorism that is spreading to Europe.”
For the last number of weeks, the ministry has advertised the three-day project that began Sunday – which it hopes will just be a pilot for the future – and some 1,500 people signed up for the tours, with hundreds of others on a waiting list.
The groups begin at the red carpet entrance to the ministry, then go to the room where there are periodic press conferences with heads of state, and includes a stop over in the situation room and in the Abba Eban foyer where display cases present gifts that some of the world’s dignitaries have bestowed on Israel’s foreign ministers over the years. One such gift is the very fountain pen US president Harry Truman used to sign the order recognizing Israel 11 minutes after it declared independence in 1948.
The tour includes stops where photos can be taken against the background of the UN General Assembly or the Oval Office.
Hotovely did not address those cynics saying that the open house is necessary to make the ministry relevant to the Israeli public, because it has lost its relevance and importance over the last number of years, as various responsibilities have been carved away from it and given to other ministries, and since it has been without a full-time minister sine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took over the portfolio in 2015.
Instead, Hotovely stressed the positive. “The goal is to show the youth that they can take pride in their country,” she said.
“Part of the fake news is to create the impression that Israel is in isolation,” she said. “But those who go through this tour will see that Israel is in a situation where it is being courted by others, and not in isolation, and where it is spreading out in the international community, not being isolated by it.”