Is Israeli diplomacy an election propaganda tool?

Think About It: I have no doubt that if Hans Morgenthau were still alive today, Israel’s “diplomacy” would have flabbergasted him. Being inflexible and boorish simultaneously can be lethal.

Liberman and Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
Liberman and Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
In his classic book Politics Among Nations, Hans Morgenthau listed diplomacy among the elements that make up the power of nations.
The Jewish American international relations professor described the four main tasks of diplomacy as: determining the state’s objectives in light of the power actually and potentially available for their pursuit; assessing the objectives of other nations and the power actually and potentially available for their pursuit; determining to what extent the different objectives are compatible with each other; and employing the means suited to the pursuit of the objectives which are chosen.
One wonders what Morgenthau would have had to say about the new twist given to the term “diplomacy” by Israel’s current leaders, which, as suggested by several commentators, has been cynically mobilized by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman as part of the Likud-Beytenu elections campaign.
It is said that the Likud-Beytenu’s American elections advisor, Arthur Finkelstein, reached the conclusion that his clients can maximize their electoral support inter alia by means of an aggressive “the world is against us,” “their attitude toward us today is the same as their attitude towards the Jews during the Holocaust” campaign.
The decision to humiliate, within the framework of diplomatic circumstances, an Israeli academic of international standing, just because 10 years ago she signed a controversial but perfectly legitimate petition concerning military service in the territories, is already the local touch, contributed by National Security Adviser Ya’acov Amidror, as if to say: “Look how we treat left-wing wimps – even if they are professors, whom the goyim seek to honor.”
Of course, perhaps the cynical explanation is nothing but “evil spirit,” and Netanyahu and Liberman are using diplomacy in accordance with Morgenthua’s prescription – with well thought-out objectives and clear cost-benefit calculations.
Let us look at the two examples from last week.
On December 11, in reaction to the EU foreign ministers’ decision of the previous day to condemn Israel for advancing plans to build in the E-1 zone, Liberman chose to launch a frontal attack on the Europeans, accusing them of being soft with the Hamas, which constantly calls for the destruction of Israel, and dealing with the threat to Israel’s existence as they had dealt with the threat to the lives of the Jews back in the 1930s and 1940s, when Jews were prevented from migrating to Palestine, and left to die in the concentration camps.
Though he didn’t accuse the European of anti- Semitic motives, Liberman did accuse them of acting on the basis of narrow interests, stating that their opposition to the Israeli construction in the settlements was “unbalanced and unjustified.”
The European reaction was one of anger and dismay. Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, declared Liberman’s attack to be inappropriate, and offensive to Europeans. It should be noted that the Europeans (and the Americans as well, for that matter) have never accepted the legitimacy of Israel’s settlement activities in what they regard as occupied territories, and every addition to this activity – whether merely declaratory or accompanied by actual construction– is condemned by them. Furthermore, they do not accept Israel’s settlement activity to be the result of an existential need.
Israel need not accept this European position, and may even reject it out of hand. However, mentioning the Holocaust in this particular context is especially dissonant, since if anything, Israel’s policy is viewed in Europe as expansionist rather than existential, just as Germany’s search for lebensraum for the Germany people was considered pure expansionism by the Allied powers during World War II.
Though at the time of writing we do not know whether the EU will implement some form of sanctions against Israel in general, or the Jewish settlers in the West Bank in particular, we can definitely say that nothing good is expected to result from this episode. What a shame Liberman didn’t resign several days earlier.
Netanyahu’s decision to allow Amidror to get the Germans to cancel their invitation to Prof. Rivka Feldhay to participate, as part of an Israeli academic team, in his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on December 6 (or was Amidror only executing Netanyahu’s decision?) was also a piece of diplomatic folly, besides being a sad omen of what the intellectual radical Left in Israel can expect in the four years after the elections.
Netanyahu has an absolute right to object to petitions such as the one that Feldhay signed 10 years ago. It would even have been legitimate had he made his displeasure known to the Germans, without getting them to cancel her invitation.
However, what he did was to declare a boycott on the head of the Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University. In doing so he provided moral justification to anti-Israeli academics in Europe, who call for the boycotting of Israeli academics, because of what they said, didn’t say, or who they are.
If Merkel were the prime minister of any country except Germany, her reaction would undoubtedly have been much harsher than just to convey her best regards to Feldhay by means of her colleagues. How all this serves Israel’s interests, only God knows.
Even though in 1975 Morgenthau said to an Israeli audience that “You should not apologize for being inflexible, or deny that you are – but point with pride to your inflexibility and your determination to continue living and to have the conditions that will make your continued existence possible,” I have no doubt that if he were still alive today, Israel’s “diplomacy” would have flabbergasted him. Being inflexible and boorish simultaneously can be lethal.
But maybe Finkelstein is to blame after all.
The writer is a former Knesset employee, who taught international relations at the Hebrew University in the 1970s.