‘Israel neglects diplomacy at the expense of arms’

‘Israel neglects diplomacy at the expense of arms’

Foreign Ministry employees issue report on underfunding and understaffing, pan effects on country's standing abroad

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem (photo credit: CC BY Almog, Wikimedia Commons)
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem (photo credit: CC BY Almog, Wikimedia Commons)

Israel neglects its foreign relations by underfunding and understaffing the Foreign Ministry, according to a report published by the ministry’s staff on Tuesday.

Israel’s annual diplomatic budget is the lowest of all developed countries in the world in terms of percentage of GDP, a mere 0.15 percent, the report said. That number pales in comparison to Norway’s 0.9%, Denmark’s 0.85%, the United Kingdom’s 0.75%, Germany’s 0.4%, and Canada’s 0.25%, of their respective GDPs. Iran, by comparison, invests only 0.1% of its GDP to its diplomatic service. Furthermore, the report noted, the budget for Israel’s Defense Ministry is 100 times larger than that of the Foreign Ministry.

“Israel neglects its foreign relations. Even though the heads of the state acknowledge Israel’s complex position in the international arena, and the need for change in everything related to public diplomacy, in practice the situation is the worst it’s ever been,” members of the Foreign Ministry Employees Committee said in a press conference.

“Israel has no representatives in many countries” — 57 of the 160 with which it has relations, according to the report — “and no diplomatic action is being taken to improve [Israel’s] foreign relations,” they said.

According to the report, the average number of Israeli delegates per mission has dropped by 50% in the past 30 years. Whereas in the 1980s there was an average of 4.5 Israeli diplomats per mission worldwide, that figure now stands at two.

Of the 40 sub-Saharan African countries with which Israel has relations, for example, it has permanent delegations in only 10, the report said. In such countries, the committee noted, Arab countries, as well as the Palestinian Authority, have a host of delegations who provide a one-sided argument concerning policy vis-à-vis Israel.

“Israel must understand that the diplomatic challenges abroad are an integral part of the conflict Israel is managing over its character and rightness, and it must give it the same concentration and resources that it bestows upon its defense,” added the report.

The publication of the report comes days ahead of the government’s decision on the allocation of funds to various ministries and institutions, including the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office. Workers of the Public Security Ministry on Tuesday rallied in Jerusalem as part of a bid to have their salaries matched to those of Defense Ministry employees.

Avi Beker, a former Israeli envoy to the United Nations and ex-secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, told The Times of Israel that the country was neglecting its responsibility to properly represent itself in the international arena.

“There is no excuse for the negligence and irresponsible attitude reflected in the sharp cuts to the budget and manpower of Israeli diplomacy,” Beker, currently a teacher at Tel Aviv University, told The Times of Israel. “Diplomacy should be viewed as part and parcel of the Israeli battlefield and its line of defense. The investment in our diplomatic corps should not be viewed against investments in defense but rather as complementary allocations aiming to strengthen our security.”

Becker said that “delegitimization” of Israel, which included calls for “divestment and sanctions,” was based on “myths and false narratives that require a lot of diplomatic work in informing and educating officials, elites and public opinion.

“It’s becomes clear that even in the age of Internet diplomacy and instant messaging through social networks, there is no replacement for the classic diplomatic work of person-to-person contact,” he added.

Former Foreign Ministry director Alon Liel said the problem was less a matter of the funding allocated Israeli diplomatic missions, or the number of diplomats, and more a question of the country’s foreign policy itself.

“If Israel cares about its international status, the needed change is here in Jerusalem” rather than abroad, he told The Times of Israel. “We need a different Middle Eastern policy and this is the issue Israeli diplomats should raise their voice about.”

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