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November 27, 2014 / 5 Kislev, 5775
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The Ministry of Extraneous Affairs

The civil servants at Israel's foreign ministry seem to believe it is their job to shape government policy rather than to be faithful to it.
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman played table tennis during a tournament held at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem back in 2010.

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman played table tennis during a tournament held at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem back in 2010.
Photo Credit: Kobi Gideon / Flash 90

I begin with a full disclosure: a few months ago the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent me to an Asian country to advise its government in understanding a difficult matter regarding the Islamic population of that state and how to deal with this matter. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized the event perfectly, in both the professional and logistical aspects, and the Israeli ambassador of that state personally accompanied me in my meetings with the local professionals.

These days, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is preparing a promotional film on Israel, and in the leading role is Bar Rafaeli, whose participation in the film arouses a wave of objection, because she did not serve in the military. Some official sources also objected, especially the IDF itself, because her participation in an official film produced by the state of Israel could be interpreted as sending a message of leniency towards people who have not served in the IDF. These days, when “sharing the burden equally” has become a political mantra on the level of “It is better to die than commit certain sins”, the IDF expects the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to act in a way that whitewashes the evasion of military service in the IDF. But it seems that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not think it’s a problem.

This case – in my view – is an indication of the way too many people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs think. The employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are public servants, not appointed by the minister, and most are graduates of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ cadet’s course. This was supposed to provide the state of Israel with a working staff that is professional and relevant, and executes the decisions of the government professionally and faithfully, and without dispute.

IN FACT, the reality is totally different. The social profile of workers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is fairly suitable to the model of the “Akhusalim” – coined by the sociologist Prof. Baruch Kimmerling, who described the state of Israel of the 1970s as being governed by an elite group of people who were Ashkenazim (Jews of European descent), secular, members of the old guard, socialist, and nationalist, forming the Hebrew acronym Akhusal.

In general, one can say that the political, social, diplomatic and cultural agenda of the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs resembles that of the Labor party (and perhaps also Meretz) much more than it resembles that of the Likud, despite the fact that since 1977 there have been more than a few governments led by the Likud. The proportion of religious, ultra-Orthodox, and Arabs who are staff members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is significantly lower than their proportional representation in the population of the state of Israel.

As a result of this, Avigdor Leiberman, a minister from the Right, found it difficult to impose  his political agenda on his subordinates because of the simple reason that he could not appoint staff that suited him. The political echelon (the prime minister and minister of foreign affairs) can appoint no more than eleven people in the ministry, from the level of ambassador to the person who serves tea, and a minister who cannot place his people in key positions will find it difficult to control what is done in the ministry. My sense is that Leiberman was “persona non grata” in the eyes of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff.

THE POLITICAL agenda of the staff in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has created an absurd situation, in which the ministry that is the spokesman for the policies of the prime minister and is responsible for hasbara (dissemination of public relations information), is entrusted with explaining government positions, despite the prime minister being far from being of “one mind” with the officials in the ministry of foreign affairs.

This disparity became obvious in the early 2000s, when the prime minister was Ariel Sharon and the minister of foreign affairs was Shimon Peres. With the passing of years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has adopted political language that does not reflect the policy of Israel by using expressions such as “the occupied territories” (occupied from whom?), “settlements” (instead of communities), “Palestinian people” (even Azmi Bishara* doesn’t think that there is such a people) and “solution of two states for two peoples.”

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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One Response to “The Ministry of Extraneous Affairs”

  1. Charlie Hall says:

    ' he proved that according to international law, the “territories” are not occupied, '.

    Nobody outside of right wingers in Israel accept that kind of bogus proof. The entire world — including Medinat Yisrael — accepted the *de facto* sovereignty of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan over Judea, Samara, and East Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967. That gives the territory in question the status of "occupied" with the possible exception of East Jerusalem, which was annexed to Medinat Yisrael.

    'not to mention the documents that grant the Jewish people rights and sovereignty over all of the Land of Israel, such as the decision of the San Remo Conference in 1920.'

    The San Remo Conference resolution had no legal standing; in fact its terms had to be completely renegotiated three years later at Lausanne and a year after that in the League of Nations. And in any case it did not propose giving the Jewish people sovereignty, nor did it specify a boundary for the "Jewish National Home" other than it be "in" Palestine.

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