If, as the saying goes, diplomacy is an art, then Israel’s creations of late look more like the handiwork of a cartoonist than that of a Dutch master.
For instance, the decision to send far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to the European Union Delegation’s Europe Day Celebration on Tuesday – a decision that led the EU to cancel its reception at the event so as to avoid giving him a platform – is unmindful at best and a joke at worst.
If Al Jaffee, Mad magazine cartoonist who passed away last month at the age of 102, had taken a crack at this, he might have lampooned the decision by drawing the scene of Ben-Gvir at the EU bash under the banner, “About as welcome as a skunk at a lawn party.”
Given that many of the EU countries, as well as the United States, refuse to deal with Ben-Gvir because of his positions and past actions and statements, and given that numerous EU ambassadors who are to attend the EU celebration won’t meet Ben-Gvir face to face, it is difficult to imagine what the government official was thinking who authorized the selection of the national security minister – out of all the government’s many ministers – to represent Israel at this event.
Or perhaps that person was not thinking at all. If that is the case, it fits in well with a pattern of diplomatic faux pas that have caused this country embarrassment and gratuitous reputational damage that could have been avoided with just a little forethought.
Take, for example, the recent idea – thankfully nixed – of sending Likud MK May Golan to New York to serve as Israel’s consul-general. That’s right – Golan, who burst onto the national scene as an activist against African migrants and someone who once sarcastically boasted that she is “proud to be a racist.”
One must be strikingly tone-deaf to even consider nominating her to represent Israel in New York, one of the world’s most diverse cities and home to a vast and famously liberal Jewish community; this appears to be about as tone-deaf as the person who okayed sending Ben-Gvir to the EU event.
But the diplomatic gaffes did not begin with Golan or Ben-Gvir.
In March, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich triggered a diplomatic mini-crisis with Jordan by saying that the Palestinians were not a people while speaking in France from a lectern adorned with a map of Greater Israel that included the Hashemite Kingdom.
A few days earlier, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, for no apparent reason, insulted the United Arab Emirates by saying at a conference, “I was in Dubai – not that I will go back there, I didn’t like the place.”
Israel gained nothing from any of this. On the contrary, these incidents made the Jewish state look like a country whose top officials neither take into account the sensitivities of others nor have any self-awareness.
It is time for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who well understands the art of diplomacy, to put an end to this amateurish and unprofessional show. And it is time for the government to put diplomacy ahead of politics because it is local politics that has lurked behind some of these diplomatic missteps.
For instance, why did Ben-Gvir volunteer to attend the EU event and then refuse to back down when the EU asked him not to attend? Because few things would play as well with his political base – a base that the polls show is now shrinking – than to publicly tweak the nose of the Europeans.
And why was Golan floated as a possible candidate for the New York post? To remove from the Knesset an ardent supporter of judicial reform at a time when Netanyahu is interested in shoring up the ranks of those in his Knesset faction amenable to compromise.
In other words, political considerations are trumping what is diplomatically good for the country: sending Golan to New York would not help Israel’s case in America, and dispatching Ben-Gvir to address the Europe Day does nothing to help Israel-EU ties. Both, in fact, were liable to cause significant harm.
Israel already has enough substantive issues causing friction with both the EU and the US. It need not add to them by taking unnecessarily provocative steps.