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July 30, 2015 / 14 Av, 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

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also abandoned the opinion of Prof. Yehuda Blum, who was the legal advisor of the ministry and the Israeli representative in the U.N., in which he proved that according to international law, the “territories” are not occupied, 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.

During the past ten years, I have personally come across this way of thinking among more than a few staff members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is evident also in the way that the ministry functions. At the end of the year 2000, when the Palestinian terrorists resumed blowing up our buses and their passengers, I wrote a short article  in English about the world of the martyr, and the type of reward that he expects in paradise after he carries out his mission successfully. I sent the article to a senior official who was then responsible for hasbara, assuming that he would send the article to Israeli  representatives abroad, so that they could send it to local newspapers all over the world.

After two days I called to determine the fate of the article, and the official told me: “We decided not to make any use of the article.” I asked “Why?” And the official answered me: “It’s not nice to get involved with other peoples’ faiths, and it’s not our business to get into the fantasies of other cultures.” I thundered: “My friend, we are being killed in buses because of the fantasies of another culture!!!” “Nevertheless, he answered, “this is our final decision.” Two years passed and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs began to publish horrible photographs from terror attacks, but only on the internet. The faithful official has been promoted, and today he fills a senior position in the ministry.

In another matter regarding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which I was involved, concerning Israeli policy in the Palestinian matter, I was a witness to officials saying something like: “We must direct the government to adopt the policy that we think is correct.” In this case, “the correct policy” was the establishment of a Palestinian state with territorial contiguity based on the 1948 borders with slight border adjustments. The significance of this was that officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, public servants, see themselves as policy designers rather than workers who carry out the policies of the prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, who were elected by the public.

Those familiar with the British series “Yes, Minister” and its sequel “Yes, Prime Minister,” know exactly what I mean: public service has an agenda, and the role of the senior officials is to lead the minister, who is elected by the public, in the direction that the officials think is right. The minister is fed the information that the officials supply him with, so he thinks that he is making the decisions independently.

A THIRD MATTER regarding the agenda of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pertains to the subject of hasbara. The very fact that the previous government of Israel decided to establish a separate office  to deal with hasbara (and the diaspora) proves that there is a problem in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Even if this decision was made because of the need to find a job for an important person, the establishment of the ministry of hasbara indicates a certain lack of confidence on the prime minister’s part in the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who should be responsible for hasbara. It may be that they even quietly supported the establishment of this ministry, because they did not demonstrate against it or go on strike because of it, and my impression is that they are not comfortable with explaining the government policy anyway, because it is not consistent with their views. This might also explain the fact that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not making any effort to establish an Israeli satellite television channel, either in English or Arabic.

The Agranat report on the performance of the government during the Second Lebanon  War (2006) also dealt with the failures in hasbara, which was then the responsibility of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The conclusion drawn in the report was that an office of spokesperson and hasbara should be established. And that this office should be included in the office of the prime minister, and would function as a headquarters of national hasbara and  be responsible for all other agencies  of hasbara and spokesmen, such as those that operate in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IDF and the Ministry of Internal Security.  The fact that this body had to be established proves that there are problems within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and principally that it has its own separate agenda, which is evident when the officials attempt to speak in the name of the government and prime minister and explain their actions, while holding views that are at odds with those of the government.

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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