Rinawie Zoabi can no longer represent Israel in China - Editorial

Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi is the wrong person to represent Israel diplomatically, and she was only given the role to stop her from toublemaking in the Knesset.

 MK GHAIDA RINAWIE ZOABI attends a Special  Committee on Arab Society Affairs meeting, in the  Knesset in June (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK GHAIDA RINAWIE ZOABI attends a Special Committee on Arab Society Affairs meeting, in the Knesset in June
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

It’s too early to say for sure whether Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi got what she wanted out of the coalition crisis she manufactured last week – other than attention. But the case shines a light on many problems both in the country’s political system and in the way that diplomatic appointments are made. Rinawie Zoabi surprised Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his partners when she suddenly announced that she was leaving the coalition to protest what she claimed was a series of problems within the Arab community. Among other things, she cited recent clashes on the Temple Mount, Sheikh Jarrah, settlements, house demolitions, the Citizenship Law and land confiscations in the Negev. The last straw, she said, was the clash between police and the Palestinians who carried the Palestinian flag-draped coffin of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jerusalem.

Rinawie Zoabi is no stranger to making bold protest measures. In January, she voted against the government’s bill on the ultra-Orthodox military draft, which as a result did not pass. She said then that she was voting to protest JNF tree planting on land which Bedouin residents of the Negev claim is theirs. Largely as a result of this protest gesture, instead of being punished within the coalition, Rinawie Zoabie was rewarded with a prestigious diplomatic appointment meant to remove the unpredictable lawmaker from the Knesset. She was, the government decided, to become Israel’s consul-general in Shanghai. Tellingly, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid gave the appointment to a Meretz MK, rather than to a member of his own Yesh Atid list. This was another reason to suspect that the appointment was largely a means to remove Rinawie Zoabi from the Knesset where she could endanger the government’s survival.

Her decision to resign from the coalition (but not the Knesset) was interpreted as a protest at what she sees as stalling over her appointment as consul-general, which still has to go through different channels for approval, like any official diplomatic appointment.

Although the position is considered to be more focused on commercial and financial ties, a field in which she is indeed qualified, the fact that she frequently attacks the government and the country makes her unsuitable for a post representing it. During a barrage of Hezbollah rockets from Lebanon in August, she went as far as telling KAN Radio that “Bennett knows that if the government enters into a military confrontation, the coalition will fall because Meretz and Ra’am will not agree to such a thing.” It was an open warning to the government that it could not respond to attacks from the terrorist organization and survive.

She might have the professional credentials for the job but she is no diplomat. Although her appointment was praised for making her the first Muslim woman to hold such a high position in Israel’s diplomatic service, that is not enough to make it a good appointment. It was contested as unfitting even by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel.

MERETZ PARTY member Jida Rinawi-Zoabi attends a press conference in Tel Aviv in January. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)MERETZ PARTY member Jida Rinawi-Zoabi attends a press conference in Tel Aviv in January. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

Rinawie Zoabi is, of course, not the first person to receive a top diplomatic post to remove them as a political threat: When he was prime minister, for example, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Danny Danon as ambassador to the UN and following that Gilad Erdan, removing them from positions of possible strength within the party.

But the Rinawie Zoabi appointment is a red line that should not be crossed. If it goes ahead, it will send a message to any potential rebel within the Knesset – if you make enough trouble and threats you could be rewarded with a cushy diplomatic post. It also sends out bad signals within the diplomatic service. True, there are always a limited number of political appointments but these cannot ignore professional suitability and be made for political interests alone. 

More than ever, Israel needs to strengthen its diplomatic service and boost its image abroad. Her appointment is an example of how not to do that. How many more MKs will issue personal ultimatums? And how many will be rewarded with what they want? If Rinawie Zoabi’s appointment as consul-general goes through, it will be a dangerous step politically and a disgrace diplomatically.