Israel’s foreign diplomacy has never been its strongest asset, but there is no denying the dedication of the underpaid, under-resourced employees of Israel’s foreign service. Now the hard-pressed diplomats of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs have taken the unprecedented step of refusing to assist ministers of their own government, officers of the Israel Defense Forces or the Shin Bet secret service traveling abroad.
The sanctions are a last-ditch protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’swholesale destruction of the Foreign Ministry, which is being carved up salami-style in a bizarre strategy that is in danger of wrecking what little is left of Israel’s tattered international diplomacy. Here’s how Netanyahu, himself a former deputy foreign minister, is picking the ministry to pieces.
1. Refusing to appoint a foreign minister
Does Israel even need a foreign minister? Not according to Netanyahu, who has decided to leave the post open pending the hoped-for acquittal of Avigdor Lieberman, currently standing trial on charges of fraud and breach of trust.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on during statements at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on November 21, 2012. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)
2. Pretend foreign minister #1: the Public Diplomacy Ministry
In 2009, Netanyahu re-styled the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs as the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs under Likud Party loyalist Yuli Edelstein, thus stripping the Foreign Ministry of its lead role in Israel’s foreign information strategy—usually known by the Hebrew word hasbara (“explanation”). Israel’s hasbara has always been dreadful, but under Edelstein—whose gentlemanly manner masks a right-wing religious-messianic fanaticism forged under brutal Soviet oppression—it reached a new, uncoordinated nadir. The new ministry took over the Government Press Office, which handles the registration of resident and visiting journalists, re-locating it from its ramshackle but accessible central Jerusalem building to an unmarked and impossible-to-find suite of rooms above a girls’ college near the Malcha Shopping Mall miles from the center. The ministry’s lowest point was its release of the hallucinatory Gaza Hasbara Rape video in which Israel was depicted as a sexually abused young woman in a bizarre encounter with a male therapist.