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Nearly every day there is an infuriating incident in which Israel is unjustly bashed in international fora, on college campuses or in the news media.
Explaining ourselves It has been a commonly held perception among Israelis and among those who support Israel that the Jewish state gets a bad rap in the court of world opinion.
This has been true at least since the First Lebanon War. Many would argue that the highpoint of world empathy for Israel’s plight came in the wake of the Six Day War. It’s been downhill ever since.
Nearly every day there is an infuriating incident in which Israel is unjustly bashed in international fora, on college campuses or in the news media. Just this week it happened again. Three Palestinian terrorists, armed with makeshift firearms, explosives and knives, murdered Border Police officer Hadar Cohen, 19, and seriously wounded another near the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City before being killed.
But when CBS headlined the story, editors wrote: “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on.”
Under pressure from social media, the American television outlet changed the headline a few hours later to: “Israeli police kill 3 alleged Palestinian attackers.” Eventually, after changing the headline four times, CBS arrived at a formulation that reflected what really happened. The damage, however, had been done and hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of people had received the false impression that Israel killed innocent Palestinians.
Under the circumstances, a diplomatic corps that is extensively developed, generously budgeted, well coordinated with the political echelon and strategically placed throughout the world – well beyond what one would expect for a country the size of Israel with just 8 million citizens – should be a no-brainer. It is difficult to think of another country in the world comparable in size that faces the sorts of diplomatic challenges Israel does. It would be only natural for Israel to devote a disproportionate amount of time, money and resources to diplomacy.
That’s why it is jaw-droppingly surprising to discover that Israel invests significantly less in developing its foreign service than countries such a Norway, Greece or the Czech Republic. Even food-maker Osem’s annual ad budget is bigger than Israel’s public diplomacy budget.
As reported by The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon, figures on Israel’s tiny international presence were presented at the annual meeting of the heads of Israel’s missions abroad, by Hanan Goder-Goldberger, the nonresident ambassador to South Sudan.
Israel, according to these figures, has 78 embassies, 23 consulates, one trade office, and six missions to international organizations. Iran, by contrast, has 142 missions abroad and the Palestinian Authority has 101. Turkey’s international presence is even bigger at 233 delegations.
Not only does Israel have too few missions, those that do exist are woefully undermanned. Just a single diplomat is present at 30 of the missions and just two are positioned in 56, including in Buenos Aires, Cairo and Shanghai.
Part of the problem, Goder-Goldberger said, is that the Foreign Ministry lacks a full-time minister – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also the foreign minister.
Normally, the politician chosen to become foreign minister uses his or her position to make a name for him or herself. Indeed, the position is seen as a stepping stone to the premiership. No politician with drive and aspirations to become prime minister would allow his or her budget to remain inadequately small without putting up a fight.
Another problem is that public advocacy is a sexy issue.
Every politician wants to be responsible for it. The Strategic Affairs Ministry dabbles in diplomacy as does the Prime Minister’s Office. The Foreign Ministry has become just one more office that engages in public diplomacy.
This must be frustrating for the idealistic and motivated Foreign Ministry diplomats based in Israel and abroad who chose the diplomatic calling out a desire to serve and defend the state against the propaganda spewed by a host of countries, non-state actors, terrorist groups, Islamists and BDS activists. These are people who received training in the art of diplomacy and are therefore the best qualified to take up Israel’s case abroad.
The time has come to rethink Israel’s strategy. Having a full-time foreign minister would be an important first step.
Doubling the number of missions manned by professional diplomats is another important step. The misinformed, slanted headline CBS published this week is not the last of its kind. We cannot eradicate prejudices. But we can do a better job of telling the real story.