Our no-show at Obama’s UN speech – Succot notwithstanding – is yet another expression of our nonchalance to public diplomacy efforts.

It was journalist and TV anchor Robert MacNeil who said, “You learn, just as you learn good manners, how to approach things with a certain amount of diplomacy.”
Considering Israel’s performance at the UN General Assembly last week, it seems we still need a lot of cramming at etiquette school to do, since we continue to botch opportunities to help our own cause.
For better or worse, the backbone of diplomacy is protocol – that set of rules which all sides must agree on when entering the diplomatic arena. The local press picked up the story about Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s wife sitting with her husband, President Shimon Peres and other Israeli representatives on the assembly floor. The protocol is clear as day: if you are a guest at the proceedings and have no official standing, you sit in the mezzanine. If it’s good enough for the first lady of the US and the wives of other world leaders, it should be good enough for Nili Priel.
While this incident might seem trivial, it is a symptom of a larger problem.We need to take our public diplomacy more seriously, and nothing expresses how nonchalant we are in this regard than another incident which took place the very next day at the assembly.
PRESIDENT BARACK Obama devoted a good portion of his speech to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Among other things, he was optimistic about an agreement. He called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to continue the settlement freeze, and warned countries against questioning Israel’s legitimacy.
When watching excerpts from the speech, I was shocked to see the empty seats of the Israeli delegation when the camera cut to their position. Seems our representatives took time off to observe Succot. This is a prime example of how to fail in the sphere of hasbara – a sphere where we cannot afford any more blunders.
Without making light of the Feast of Tabernacles, priorities must be drawn. When that camera pans to empty seats, it looks like Israel is boycotting the speech.
Yes, we explained to the UN and the Americans why we were not in attendance, but it’s unlikely that most of the people who watched it on TV knew that. If the US president is talking about Israel to the leaders of the world, we need our delegates to be there. Period.
Furthermore, those same representatives must be available for media appearances afterward. We don’t need any more misunderstandings.
It was just as important for us to be on the floor for the hate-filled speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which took place on the same day. Our delegates should have walked out in disgust, together with our American and European allies. Is it not important to show solidarity against such venomous words as those spouted by the leader of the Iranian dictatorship? Can we afford to miss an opportunity to applaud our friends and condemn our enemies on the international stage? The counterargument, of course, would be that Succot is a holiday during which our delegates shouldn’t be working, but our diplomats are not like shop owners.
They’re more like our armed forces, and most soldiers on the front line spend the majority of holidays away from home and on guard for any potential threats.
When Israel is being discussed at the UN or in any key international forum, we need our diplomats there for the same reason.
Some people don’t see the diplomatic front as part of our general struggle to exist, and here is where the paradigm shift needs to take place. Israel is fighting diplomatic enemies as well as military ones, and both should be given our utmost attention. Both arenas have their own set of rules, which we must understand and abide by. Let us not forget that it was diplomacy, in its many forms, which gave us a state at the fateful UN vote back in 1947, just as it took every effort by the newly born IDF to keep it.

The writer is an independent media consultant, an adjunct lecturer at IDC Herzliya’s School of Communications and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.