Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reasons for the Failure of Israeli Diplomacy

Many Israeli diplomats apparently know little or nothing of the culture or history of the country and people they are to be representing. In short, they know little of Judaism or Zionism, reports this article in Ha'Aretz.

Recently, Israeli foreign minister Lieberman lambasted Israeli diplomats posted overseas for being too soft in their arguments and being too willing to accept the narrative of the "other side" in favour of the Israeli one, which they should be representing. In response, some Israeli ambassadors replied that most Israeli diplomats are sincere in their patriotism and desire to represent their country but that there was a lack of leadership and guidance. Generally a diplomat posted abroad (by most countries) will be given a set of standard "lines" or positions to repeat and advance at every opportunity, on a case by case basis, as needed, they would be provided with instructions on issues as they arise. This apparent lack of leadership is therefore an important point. Judaism and Zionism, for example, are concepts that have varying interpretations. An orthodox Jewish Israeli diplomat may approach these issues differently than a secular one. With Israeli society itself as divided as it is over key issues, clear instructions are needed from Jerusalem for diplomats to know what they should be advancing.

This lack of leadership is believable as it has been highlighted by recent Israeli diplomatic interactions with Turkey. The Israeli deputy Foreign Minister called in the Turkish ambassador to express Israel's concern over a Turkish television documentary which depicted Israeli security agents kidnapping babies. As appalling as this show may have been, Israel's diplomatic response was a shameful spectacle in it's own right. The Turkish envoy was placed on a low sofa, his Israeli interlocutors on higher chairs with an Israeli flag on the table. All of which was explicitly and deliberately pointed out by the deputy FM to a cameraman filming the event. The Turkish ambassador rightly described the Israeli behaviour as adolescent and undiplomatic and the Turkish government asked for an apology for the humiliation of their envoy.

With attitudes and behaviours such as the deputy FM's it's not too hard to see how the Israeli foreign service may be accused of being ineffective. When the Israeli government complains about the ineffectiveness of their diplomats, about strained relations with countries like Turkey or the failure of the Israeli government to properly communicate its message, they must look to the top, to incidents like this most recent one with Turkey for answers. It is the job of diplomats to express their country's position, but this is to be done in a diplomatic fashion, with tact. Directly expressing discontent is absolutely acceptable, but humiliation of the enjoy of a country with whom your country would like better relations should leave no wonder why a country's diplomacy is ineffective.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a professional diplomatic corps, only it appears that it is being run by ruffians and boors on whom the subtleties and finer techniques of inter-state relations are lost. In the wake of such unprofessional and undiplomatic treatment of the envoy of a state with whom relations are so difficult, more than an apology is needed. A cabinet shuffle (though probably politically impossible) is what is really needed to redeem and reform the Israeli Foreign Service into something more effective.


Thermblog said...

I don't see how a cabinet shuffle will help.

While it's easy to criticise, one should remember that Israel is a small country but being in the limelight, has to respond to many critics. The necessarily disproportionately large military gets top priority over diplomacy.

Israelis are not by nature diplomatic - I would say that Canadians are - and this likely exacerbates the problem. It's easy to understand how a gaffe like this happened; probably someone decided to bring the hammer on down on a richly deserving Turkey. Finesse was defenestrated and this is the result.

That said, Israel has the advantage of being a young country without centuries-old bureaucracies. With the GDP growing, it is certainly time to make their international image the next priority.

cba said...

"That said, Israel has the advantage of being a young country without centuries-old bureaucracies."

Believe me, Israel has a surfeit of bureaucracy.

Thermblog said...

cba: true enough but although I'm not well versed in the minutiae of Israeli society, I imagine that the Israeli MFA & other relevant departments do not have quite the entrenched ideological burden that one finds in say, the State Dept., British F.O. and Quai d'Orsay.

(And F.A. on Sussex Drive for good measure.)