Saturday, January 16, 2016

Latest spat with Sweden highlights Israeli diplomatic shortcomings

Mazal Mualem,

image from
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom was quoted Jan. 12 in the Swedish media as demanding an investigation into the circumstances under which Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in the current wave of violence. Her comment generated furious reactions in Israel that reflected a grim absence of coherent and effective foreign policy in the diplomatic battle with the Palestinians. ...
As for the prime minister [Netanyahu] himself, he took advantage of the scheduled meeting with the foreign press on Jan. 14 to launch an attack on the Swedish foreign minister. Netanyahu labeled her remarks scandalous, immoral, unjust and misleading, and he wondered out loud, “People are defending themselves against assailants wielding knives who are about to stab them to death … and that’s extra-judicial killings?” All in all, his reaction was reasonable. He did not lash out at the Swedish government or announce a recall of the Israeli ambassador, nor did he call for a boycott of Ikea. He defended Israel’s conduct in the face of the so-called lone-wolf terrorism.
The problem is not with this reaction, but with the fact that Israel does not have an effective foreign policy vis-a-vis the diplomatic tsunami it is facing. It has, instead, domestic policy and political interests of this or that minister or, sometimes, of the prime minister himself. Therefore, when it responds to harsh comments by the Swedish foreign minister, Israel’s reaction is emotional and wrong.
Netanyahu, of all people, the No. 1 expert on public diplomacy, should understand that instead of generating a diplomatic crisis with Sweden, Israel should be trying to explain its side of things to the Swedes, and to Europeans in general. Instead of threatening to shut Israel’s gates to official Swedish visits, Israel should be inviting the Swedes in and showing them what it’s like to live in the constant shadow of terror.

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