Monday, July 25, 2016

Netanyahu defends much-maligned Foreign Ministry

Lahav Karhov, Netanyahu defends much-maligned Foreign Ministry,

Image from article, with caption: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset State Control Committee, July 25, 2016‏.

Netanyahu appeared before the committee in his capacity as Foreign Minister, to respond to a State Comptroller report criticizing the government's public diplomacy and boycott-battling efforts.

Israel's international relations and public image are constantly improving, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday in the Knesset State Control Committee.

Netanyahu appeared before the committee in his capacity as Foreign Minister, to respond to a State Comptroller report criticizing the government's public diplomacy and boycott-battling efforts.

Control Committee chairwoman Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid) brought up criticism from the Comptroller report, that the various offices dealing in public diplomacy do not coordinate.

"This harmed and harms Israel's public diplomacy. There are no instructions as to how responsibilities are divided," she said. "At a time when Israel deals with growing delegitimization campaigns, attacks at UNESCO on the historic connection between the Jewish People and Jerusalem, unilateral decisions against Israel in the UN Human Rights Council and even the World Health Organization, now you don't think we need a full-time Foreign Minister to improve Israel's standing in the world?"

The prime minister repeatedly argued that results are more important than the process, and the results are that Israel's ties in the world are better than ever.

Netanyahu presented a map of the world, color-coded to represent the status of Israel's ties with different countries, which emphasized improved connections with Asia and Eastern Europe. He expressed hope that the ties can be leveraged to reverse the "automatic anti-Israel majority" in the UN.

The prime minister also displayed a chart with Israel and the Palestinians' favorability ratings in the US in Gallup polls over more than a decade, which showed that Israel's public image is has improved overall, while the Palestinians' has remained the same.

The most important indicator of positive results from the Foreign Ministry, according to Netanyahu, was that in the last two military operations, Protective Edge in 2014 and Pillar of Defense in 2012, there were no UN Security Council decisions that would "tie our hands."

In addition, Netanyahu said that if it were not for his diplomatic efforts, Iran would have a nuclear weapon, though he lamented that Teheran's "aggression has not stopped since the deal [with world powers], including testing ballistic missiles that say 'erase Israel' on them in Hebrew."

"Public diplomacy isn't a goal in of itself, it's a means to achieve our goals. The question is how to promote our interests," he explained. "How do we measure the success or failure of the foreign ministry? In trade, foreign visitors, and public opinion. Changes are happening for the better."

One of the reasons Netanyahu cited for Israel's improved standing in the world is the idea that it is the Start-Up Nation, which he called "true branding."

Asked about the movement to boycott Israel, Netanyahu said that Israel has had many victories, mentioning failed attempts to get FIFA and the Methodist Church to boycott Israel.

"The BDS movement is on the defensive. Now, they're trying to defend their 'right to boycott,'" he stated.

Netanyahu called BDS "an anti-Semitic movement par excellence" and a "hostile element," and said that he didn't think anything Israel does, as long as it exists, will change its boycott efforts.

When it comes to claims that Israel is an apartheid state, Netanyahu pointed out that the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said no Jews will live in their future state.

"If there's ethnic cleansing and apartheid, it's in that direction," he said.

As for the criticism that public diplomacy isn't coordinated, Netanyahu said since he's been in office, it hasn't been a problem, and denied a specific criticism in the Comptroller's report that messages were not coordinated between the government and IDF Spokesperson's Unit.

MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) backed Netanyahu up, saying that he has been involved in every military operation since he came to Israel as either a member of the IDF Spokesperson's Unit or as a diplomat, and that he always received swift and consistent messages.

"Israel is less isolated than ever before, and that is a fact," Oren added. "When I was a college student, I never imagined that we would have ties with China or what was then the Soviet bloc."

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