Isolating Israel?

Critics of current Israeli government, both domestic and external, waste no opportunity charging it with causing Jewish state’s isolation.

Netanyahu and Obama in New York(good)_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Netanyahu and Obama in New York(good)_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Critics of the current Israeli government, both domestic and external, waste no opportunity charging it with causing the Jewish state’s isolation.
Yet the reality could not be further from the truth, as Israel is making stunning headway in its diplomatic, trade and bilateral relations.
Perhaps if one was to rely on New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, one could be excused for believing Israel is “adrift at sea alone,” while there is certainly no shortage of critics in Israel only too eager to assign blame to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
But is this really the case? Take the three flagship events of 2011 designed to illustrate the Jewish state’s isolation: the Palestinians’ bid for unilateral statehood at the UN, the second Gaza Flotilla and “Durban III.” All were spectacular flops.
At the UN Security Council, the Palestinian Authority could not even muster the nine votes required to force the US to exercise its veto.
The Flotilla ended up being more like a rubber ducky, as it was prevented from even leaving port in Greece. Durban III was another overwhelming failure, as 14 leading democracies pulled out.
In his speech before the UN General Assembly last year, Prime Minister Netanyahu referred to the UN as “a hall that for too long has been a place of darkness for my country.” Notwithstanding, Israel has still sought to shine its light of humanity for all alike. Its success, maybe nothing newsworthy for most countries, has been nothing short of spectacular for Israel.
Only two weeks ago, for the first time in history, Israel joined the executive board of the UN Development Program, a body endowed with a $1 billion budget for allocating resources in health, welfare, women’s empowerment and poverty alleviation to developing countries.
Last year, Israel was also elected to the governing council of UN Habitat and accepted into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
And just this week, Israel was elected vice-chair and rapporteur of the important UN Committee on Non- Governmental Organizations, which reviews prospective NGOs seeking accreditation by the UN (many of which exist for no other purpose than to attack the Jewish state).
Israel’s bilateral relations have also flourished.
Sure, one could read The Economist magazine and assume that Israel’s supposed “isolation” has been “underlined by the deterioration of its relations with Turkey and Egypt.” Never mind that under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Turkey has taken an increasingly Islamist path, aligning itself with Ahmadinejad’s Iran and terrorist groups like Hamas, or that the Egyptian Spring has brought to power the Muslim Brotherhood.
Regrettable as these developments are, they aren’t Israel’s doing.
More relevantly, under the guidance of the current leadership of the Foreign Ministry, Israel’s bilateral achievements have gone from strength to strength.
Israel now has more embassies and consulates overseas than ever before.
Trade with China and India are at record highs, while Israel has cultivated important economic and defense relations with EU states like Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria.
Relations have also improved with a number of African countries, including the newest state, South Sudan, while Canada has become the undisputed champion and supporter of Israel on the world stage.
All these achievements, however, did not happen overnight. They are the direct result of a concerted strategy by the Foreign Ministry to improve Israel’s public standing in the global community.
Some of these policies, for example, involve devoting more attention to countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America, which were previously neglected under a policy that was too heavily United States-centric.
Although resolving the conflict with Palestinians is important in its own right, no longer does this define the Israel “brand,” as the government has made a deliberate effort to focus more on positive aspects, such as its hi-tech, health and agricultural know-how and advancements. Social media, the marketing gateway of today, has been critical to this, as the Foreign Ministry has taken advantage of this medium to reach out to a whole new audience on a mass scale.
An increased focus and prominence has also been given to MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development and Cooperation, run under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry.
Through MASHAV, Israel was able to immediately dispense humanitarian aid and assistance to Haiti after their earthquake in 2010, and tsunami-ravaged Japan in 2011, as well as numerous other disaster-relief efforts throughout the world.
The government has also partnered with civil society organizations to tackle some principal challenges facing the Jewish state. For example, if August 2010, for the first time ever, the Foreign Ministry brought several hundred lawyers from around the world to Jerusalem to discuss legal challenges in Israeli policy and advocacy.
Prior to the Palestinian approach to the UN for a unilateral declaration of statehood in September 2011, there was no shortage of pundits predicting Israel would face a “diplomatic tsunami.”
Instead, Israel has ridden wave after wave of success, clearly belying the oft-quoted narrative that the Jewish state is “totally isolated” and “adrift alone at sea.”
Just to be clear, Israel still has many enemies seeking to delegitimize and isolate the state. And while there are many legitimate criticisms to be made of the government’s public diplomacy, we must also acknowledge that these successes would not have been possible without the effort, foresight and leadership of the government, and in particular the Foreign Ministry.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the Hudson Institute, where his focus is Israel and the UN. He is also a member of the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps and previously served as a foreign policy adviser to a Member of Knesset.