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RON PROSOR, Yaniv Cohen and the students from the Public Diplomacy Program on their field trip to Washington DC..(Photo by: ABBA EBAN INSTITUTE)
Ron Prosor: The diplomatic toolbox of tomorrow
In order to think outside the box, first you need to know what is in the box.
‘My teaching philosophy is straightforward,” says Ron Prosor, head of the Abba Eban Institute of International Diplomacy at IDC Herzliya. “In order to think outside the box, first you need to know what is in the box. Professionalism is knowing what’s inside the box – and knowing what’s inside is hard work.” Prosor, one of Israel’s most seasoned diplomats, encourages his students at IDC to innovate and break boundaries – but first, he says, they need to gain a practical and academic mastery of diplomacy itself.
Prosor and Yaniv Cohen, executive director of the Abba Eban Institute, have formulated a three-layer program at IDC to train the diplomats of tomorrow and provide the necessary “in-the-box” knowledge to enable them to succeed.

Prosor explains that the first layer is a solid academic background, provided at IDC by leading academic experts from around the world, that enables students to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the foundations of diplomacy.

“It’s not just books that they have to read,” he says. “We go a step further and show them how the diplomatic theories which they have read manifest themselves through case studies. We are saying this is the theory, and this is how it is seen in the practical world.”

The second layer of knowledge, says Prosor, is added by bringing in real-world diplomats to provide students with a behind-the-scenes look at what really occurs in the diplomatic process. “They meet and ask questions of the people who actually sit around the diplomatic table, such as the foreign minister, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry, the national security adviser and the cabinet secretary.”

Yaniv Cohen explains that the third layer involves practical, on-the-ground experience learning about the realities of the diplomatic world.

“We offer a public diplomacy honors program, and when we talk with them about the involvement of civic society, we give them an opportunity to have an internship with ACT.IL, one of Israel’s best advocacy organizations,” he says. “When we teach them about the American political system and how it functions, we actually take them on a one-week field trip to the United States, where we meet members of Congress, the White House chief of staff and people from various sectors that are doing the work of maintaining the American-Israeli relationship.”

Prosor, who served as Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations (2011-2015), ambassador to the United Kingdom (2007-2011) and director-general of the Foreign Ministry (2004-2007), explains that the practical, in-the-box knowledge that IDC provides differentiates it from other universities.

AMBASSADOR TO the United Nations Ron Prosor addresses the UN General Assembly during a meeting about the rise of antisemitism, at UN headquarters in New York City. (Credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

“Students learn theory and how it is applied in the practical world, so they can see what parts of the theory were used, what wasn’t and why,” he says. “When I stand in class, I explain how the UN General Assembly and Security Council works in theory – what the structures are and how it functions. I then tell them how it is applied on a daily basis, either in crisis elements or in standard operating procedures, so they learn the combination of the two. This gives them what I call ‘knowing what’s in the box.’ Use that knowledge and use what you have between your two ears to innovate.” He adds that the interdisciplinary nature of the program also integrates presentation skills, as well as using media and psychology in diplomacy.

Cohen, who has had extensive experience in international corporate law, strategy and development, says, “Diplomacy today is not what it used to be 25 or even 10 years ago, because the role and responsibilities of the diplomat have changed in recent years. Today, diplomats have to have a deep understanding of social and new media, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They need to be able to integrate with communities and communicate with them.”

IN ADDITION to understanding the new media, Cohen says that today’s diplomat needs to have extensive understanding of the non-diplomatic world as well as understand the society of the country where he serves. They need to have an understanding of business mechanisms – what motivates businesses for international activity.

YANIV COHEN, Abba Eban Institute executive director, with institute students. (Credit: ABBA EBAN INSTITUTE)

Prosor adds that in the past, without technology, leaders rarely spoke to each other and as a result, ambassadors played a much different role. Today, he says, “in order to become relevant as a diplomat, you have to focus on things that are part and parcel of creating value for Israel’s national security interests.”

For example, says Prosor, the Israeli ambassador to a country such as Vietnam needs to know how to enlarge trade between the two countries. “The toolbox that we provide at IDC shows diplomats how to find partners in Vietnam, whether it is for drip irrigation or solar energy.”

Each country is different, he explains. The most important thing is that “we have to target the relevant audience in order to promote Israel’s interests.” Prosor adds that “ROI-oriented diplomacy” that focuses on the return on diplomatic and business investments, is an essential element of diplomacy today. “If a diplomat doesn’t understand the import-export relationship between countries, business opportunities and incentives and what motivates industries, he won’t be able to do his job,” he says.

In addition to the regular academic courses that the Abba Eban Institute offers at IDC, it maintains a one-year honors program for public diplomacy, and an internship program that enables students to take part in the Institute’s research activities. The Institute serves several hundred students from 12 different countries who take part in the various programs that are offered. Cohen explains, “One of the most frequently heard comments from students who have taken part in our one-year program is that it was ‘a life-changing experience.’” He notes that alumni of the program are currently serving in Israel’s Foreign Ministry, as well as in public diplomacy positions in the media and business sectors.

While he trains the diplomats of the future, Prosor doesn’t overlook the important role that today’s diplomats play. “The ideal situation is to harness the great knowledge and experience of Israel’s professional diplomats, while constantly injecting the Foreign Ministry with fresh ideas and innovation.

“We are trying to give our students the practical and theoretical background to be effective and results-oriented in defending this country outside of Israel’s borders in order to maintain the safety of Israel’s borders,” says Prosor. “It’s a hell of a battlefield,” he adds.

This article was written in cooperation with the Abba Eban Institute.
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