US State Department spokesman Ned Price gave voice on Friday to American criticism of Israel’s decision to designate six Palestinian NGOs as terror organizations, saying Washington did not get a heads-up about the move.
The US was not alone.
According to a Kan Bet report, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who signed the order, did not give Prime Minister Naftali Bennett or Foreign Minister Yair Lapid any advance warning either.
So if the State Department was upset at being blindsided (defense officials were later cited as saying the US was in fact informed), diplomats at Foggy Bottom can only imagine how Bennett and Lapid must feel.
That Gantz took this decision without informing Bennett or Lapid – two men who now have to deal with diplomatic fallout from the move – bespeaks of a government not working as it should.
That is a serious problem, considering it’s the government’s calling card: “Even though we are ideologically diverse, the component parts work well together for the benefit of the country.”
Gantz’s failure to let others in on his NGO decision came just three weeks after Bennett dropped a bombshell announcement during his speech to the opening of the Knesset’s winter session – that the Mossad recently carried out a “daring” operation to recover information about missing airman Ron Arad.
Though Bennett briefed Lapid beforehand on what he would say, he only informed Gantz moments before he began his speech, giving the defense minister no time to object. Gantz was miffed, as evident in the briefings defense officials gave reporters, saying that the mission was a failure.
Could it be that Gantz did not brief Bennett or Lapid in advance of the NGO announcement as a tit-for-tat? One shudders at the very thought.
But something is obviously amiss. This is not the way to run a government, nor to instill confidence in a politically shell-shocked nation. That the prime minister and the foreign minister did not know of this move in advance is evidence of amateurism seeping into critical government decisions.
What message does it send that the prime minister does not know what the defense minister is up to, and vice versa?
This came up at a meeting of coalition heads before Sunday’s cabinet meeting, where Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz and Labor leader Meirav Michaeli reportedly demanded of Bennett that he stop being surprised by key decisions begin made by his ministers.
At the cabinet meeting itself, Bennett – in an apparent effort to lighten the mood – told how in the middle of his meeting on Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin – who was acting as a translator between the leaders, turning Bennett’s Hebrew into Russian – dozed off, eliciting a wake-up elbow from the prime minister.
The Russian president, Bennett said, laughed and cracked a joke, as did – it is safe to assume – those around the cabinet table hearing the story for the first time.
But this is not very amusing. The Russian president is probably one of the canniest, shrewdest and cunningest leaders in the world, who thinks numerous steps ahead on the chessboard. Israelis officials meeting him on life-and-death issues like Syria and Iran need to be keenly alert, not drowsy.
To get tired is human, but to fall asleep while translating a key diplomatic meeting – one that could have serious ramifications for Israel’s security – is inexcusable. If Elkin was sleep-deprived going in and didn’t feel he could serve as a translator, someone else should have been sent to do the job.
This scene makes Israel look not like a world power but a shtetl, where tired senior officials fall asleep after a long journey to appeal to the czar.
The lack of coordination between Gantz, Bennett and Lapid also smacks of amateurism, something one might expect, say, when residents of an apartment building – some of whom are miffed and not talking to their neighbors – do not inform one another of key decisions affecting the whole building.
None of this makes the government look serious – and not the image it wants to project domestically or overseas.